Escaped Jail Inmate Wants Trial Moved Because of Publicity Surrounding Virginia Tech Shootings

An escaped jail inmate who was the object of a manhunt that paralyzed the Virginia Tech community on the first day of classes last fall wants his trial moved, arguing he can't get a fair hearing because of publicity surrounding the university.

The August 2006 manhunt for William Morva, 25, was frequently mentioned in news reports this spring after a student opened fire on the same campus, killing 32 people and himself.

"I think this is one of those cases you have to move now," defense attorney Thomas Blaylock said Monday during a hearing on the motion to move the trial. "This community has been through so much in the last year."

Morva is charged with killing a sheriff's deputy and a security guard at a hospital where he had been taken from jail for treatment last August. At the time, he was being held on attempted robbery charges.

Authorities say Morva overpowered a sheriff's deputy at Montgomery Regional Hospital, stole his pistol, and used it to shoot security guard Derrick McFarland, 32. The next day, as hundreds of police officers searched for him, Morva shot Sheriff's Cpl. Eric Sutphin on a walking trail near the campus, authorities said.

The manhunt had prompted Virginia Tech to shut down the campus on students' first day of classes.

Commonwealth's Attorney Brad Finch argued that Morva's trial should stay in Montgomery County, citing previous rulings in which jurors with conflicts were seated if they promised to make judgments strictly on evidence. Circuit Judge Ray Grubbs said he would review the evidence and arguments and decide by Aug. 1. The trial is set for September.