Death Penalty

ABA president expresses concerns about case of inmate who is scheduled for execution

  • Print.

Linda Klein

ABA President Linda Klein. Photograph courtesy of the Office of the President.

ABA President Linda A. Klein is expressing concern about whether the death penalty is appropriate in the case of an inmate who is said to be delusional.

Klein sent a letter (PDF) to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe urging him to consider evidence that the inmate, William Morva, has a history of severe mental illness, according to an ABA press release. McAuliffe is considering a pending petition for clemency

“While his guilt in the tragic murders of Derrick McFarland and Corporal Eric Sutphin is not in dispute,” the letter says, “there is also significant evidence that Mr. Morva has a long and significant history of severe mental illness. It is for that reason that the ABA has concerns about whether the death penalty is appropriate in his case.”

The ABA doesn’t oppose or support capital punishment on the merits, but the association does have an interest in “ensuring that the death penalty is not imposed on individuals who do not have the highest culpability for the most serious crimes,” the letter says.

The ABA takes the position that individuals should not be executed if they have severe mental illness at the time of their crime or at the time of execution.

The letter notes findings from a post-conviction investigation that led a clinical expert to conclude that Morva suffers from a delusional disorder that makes him unable to distinguish reality from delusions. The expert said Morva likely suffered from delusions at the time of his crime that made him believe people were trying to kill him.

The defense has cited evidence that, in his late teens and early 20s, Morva began displaying bizarre behavior, such as expressing beliefs that he had special powers, being found without all his clothes in a public restroom, and eating strange things such as pine cones and raw meat.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.