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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Will Morva faces execution July 6 for two 2006 killings. But his mental illness has set off a new death penalty battle.

Someone was trying to kill him. William C. Morva was certain of it.

He couldn’t breathe and he was withering away, he told his mother in a jailhouse call.

“Somebody wants me to die and I don’t know who it is,” he said. “They know my health is dwindling, okay?”

He sounded paranoid. His voice grew more frantic with each call over several months on the recorded lines.

“How much more time do you think my body has before it gives out?” he asked just months before he escaped from custody, killing an unarmed guard and later a sheriff’s deputy before his capture in woods near Virginia Tech’s campus.

Morva faces execution July 6 for the 2006 killings.

With the date looming, Morva’s family, friends and lawyers are pressing for clemency from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in what has become a broader national push to eliminate capital punishment for people with severe mental illnesses such as Morva’s delusional disorder.

Supporters say the jury at Morva’s trial was given inaccurate information about his mental health and are asking McAuliffe to commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Supreme Court in recent years has ruled that juveniles, whose brains are not fully developed, and people with intellectual disabilities are not eligible for the death penalty. Lawmakers in eight states, including Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana, have introduced bills that would expand the prohibition to people with severe mental illnesses.

A vote on an Ohio measure pending in the state legislature is expected this fall. It is backed by a coalition of providers of mental-health services, social justice groups, religious leaders, former state Supreme Court justices and former Republican governor Bob Taft.

The bills address punishment, not guilt or innocence. If lawmakers in Columbus sign off on the measure, Ohio would become the first state to pass an exclusion for severe mental illness among the 31 that retain the death penalty.

Bipartisan legislative efforts underscore shifting views of capital punishment, and about whether it can be applied consistently and fairly.

Advocates for reform say the penalty was not intended for people who are incapable of distinguishing between delusions and reality, and that jurors often misunderstand mental illness.

The reformers’ efforts have met with resistance mostly from prosecutors and law enforcement officials who say jurors already can factor in mental illness at sentencing and that the exemptions are too broad.

Morva, 35, exhausted his legal appeals when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his case in February.

“It hurts me so much to know that there is nothing I can do to fix him,” Elizabeth Morva, his mother, said in an affidavit in support of her son.

Morva was 24 when he fatally shot a decorated sheriff’s deputy, Cpl. Eric Sutphin, and beloved hospital security guard Derrick McFarland. Each was married and the father of two children.

“If someone had intervened sooner, I truly believe William would never have killed those two men,” his mother wrote. “But I cannot change the past. I can only say that I am so sorry and ask that my son please be spared.”

Attorney Dawn Davison of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center says the jury in Morva’s 2008 trial did not consider his psychotic disorder because experts in that case did not have access to Morva’s complete history. Morva was under the influence of his delusions when he escaped and killed Sutphin and McFarland, she said in submitting Morva’s clemency application.


Source: The Washington Post, Ann E. Marimow, June 24, 2017


AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Urgent Action

William Morva, a 35-year-old US-Hungarian national, is due to be executed in Virginia on 6 July. A psychiatrist has diagnosed him with delusional disorder, and concluded that this contributed to the crimes for which he was sentenced to death. The jury was not told that he had this serious mental disability.

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:

* Calling for commutation of William Morva’s death sentence and medical care for his mental disability;

* Noting the diagnosis of delusional disorder, but that the jurors were told he had a less serious mental disability and did not experience delusions, denying them a full picture of who they were being asked to sentence;

* Explaining that you are not seeking to downplay the seriousness of violent crime or its consequences.

Friendly reminder: If you send an email, please create your own instead of forwarding this one!






Contact below official by 6 July, 2017 (by 22 June if possible, in case of early decision):

Governor Terry McAuliffe,
Common Ground for Virginia
P.O. Box 1475, Richmond, VA 23218, USA

Phone: +1 804-786-2211 | Fax: +1 804-371-6531
Email (via website): https://governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/
Twitter: @TerryMcAuliffe

Salutation: Dear Governor

Note: The Governor’s contact form requires a US-based address and telephone number in order to submit an appeal. We encourage you to use the comment form on their website, and if you are based outside of the US, to instead use AI USA’s New York contact details as your address/telephone number:

Amnesty International USA New York Office
5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY, 10001, USA
Phone: 212.633.4187



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