RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia is set to carry out its first execution Thursday under a new, more secretive protocol after the state's Democratic governor declined to intervene in the case of a man who killed two people during a 2006 escape.
William Morva, 35, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday evening for the killings of a hospital security guard and a sheriff's deputy. McAuliffe said he won't spare the life of the inmate, who attorneys had said suffers from a profound mental illness that made him believe his life in jail was in danger when he went on the killing spree.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe noted that experts who evaluated Morva for his trial concluded he didn't suffer from any illness that would have prevented him from understanding the consequences of his crimes. Prison staff members who have monitored Morva for the past nine years have never reported any evidence of a severe mental illness, McAuliffe said.
"I have determined that Mr. Morva was given a fair trial and that the jury heard substantial evidence about his mental health as they prepared to sentence him," McAuliffe said. "I personally oppose the death penalty; however, I took an oath to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth regardless of my personal views of those laws, as long as they are being fairly and justly applied."
Morva was awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges in 2005 when he was taken to a hospital to treat an injury. There, he overpowered a sheriff's deputy, stole his gun and fatally shot security guard Derrick McFarland before fleeing. A day later, Morva shot and killed Eric Sutphin, a sheriff's deputy searching for Morva near Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus.
Since Morva's trial, a psychiatrist diagnosed him with delusional disorder, a severe mental illness akin to schizophrenia that makes it impossible for him to distinguish between delusions and reality, his attorneys say. They also say the escape and killings were spurred by Morva's belief that someone wanted him to die in jail.
"Sadly, when he is executed, he will understand it to be the natural but horrific ending to a campaign of persecution that has been waged against him for 15 years," his lawyers said in a statement Thursday. "Such is the power of delusions that even the prospect of imminent death cannot dispel them," they said.
Recent changes to the execution protocol mean Morva will remain shielded from the view of his attorney and media witnesses until after he's been restrained and IV lines that carry the lethal drugs are inserted in his veins. Morva is to be injected with the sedative midazolam, followed by rocuronium bromide to halt breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.
The new policy has drawn fire from defense attorneys and transparency advocates. They say the public should get to see as much of the procedure as possible to ensure inmates aren't subject to unnecessary pain.
Witnesses used to watch inmates walk into the chamber and be strapped down. A curtain would then be closed so the public couldn't see the placement of the IV and heart monitors. After the curtain was reopened, inmates would be asked whether they had any final words before the chemicals began flowing.
Now, the curtain will be closed when the witnesses enter the chamber and won't be opened until the inmate's IV lines are placed.
Changes to the execution protocol were made after attorneys raised questions in January about why it took so long to place the IV in the execution of killer Ricky Gray. Before Gray's execution, the curtain remained closed for more than 30 minutes - about twice as long as usual.
Prison officials attributed the delay to difficulty finding a vein for the IV, but Gray's attorneys said that wasn't a "plausible explanation."
Now, witnesses won't know how long it takes to place the IV lines.
Spokeswoman Lisa Kinney, with the Virginia Department of Corrections, said in April that the changes were made to bring Virginia's practice in line with other states. "Waiting to open the curtain until after IV line placement reduces stress on the staff placing the lines, which in turn makes the process likely to go more quickly for the offender," Kinney said.
How much of the execution process witnesses watch varies widely by state.
In several states - such as Texas and Missouri - the IVs are already inserted when witnesses first see the inmates. In Ohio, witnesses watch the insertion of the IV lines via closed circuit TV. In 2012, The Associated Press and other news organizations successfully sued Idaho to force the state to let witnesses watch the insertion of the IV lines.