Virginia Judge Sentences Jail Escapee to Death in Guard, Deputy Slaying

A jail escapee who set off a manhunt near Virginia Tech's campus by killing a hospital guard and later, a sheriff's deputy, was sentenced to death Monday despite his attorney's pleas for leniency.

William Morva, 26, was convicted of capital murder in March for the August 2006 killings. The jury recommended the death penalty, and Monday it was imposed by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ray Grubbs.

Before sentencing, defense attorney Thomas Blaylock pleaded for mercy. Morva himself then said, "I think there are very few people in this whole courtroom who understand what that means," prompting an angry outburst from the widow of one of his victims.

"You didn't show no mercy when you killed my husband. ... You deserve to burn in hell," Cindy McFarland yelled before being escorted out of the courtroom briefly.

Grubbs told Morva he was imposing the death penalty because "lives have been shattered" by crimes that were committed "all for no other reason than your own selfish motives."

Morva was in jail awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges when he was taken to a Blacksburg hospital for treatment of an injury. He overpowered a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy in the hospital and used the deputy's pistol to shoot unarmed security guard Derrick McFarland, 32.

He shot Sheriff's Cpl. Eric Sutphin, 40, one day later on a walking trail near the Virginia Tech campus, which had been shut down on the first day of classes during a police manhunt for him.

The trial was moved 100 miles away because of difficulty seating a jury.

Jurors heard emotional prosecution testimony about the two men's lives. Family members and those who witnessed McFarland's killing testified that they still suffer from nightmares.

The defense portrayed Morva as an eccentric free spirit with a personality disorder. As his mother wept, Morva made a rambling statement in court Monday in which he referred to himself as "Nemo, a slave name" and said he was "an innocent person."

Grubbs denied a defense motion to set aside the verdict.

"Everyone in this courtroom today is here because of a profound tragedy of your making," Grubbs told Morva.

Blaylock argued that Morva would be punished enough by life in prison without parole, the only other sentencing option for a capital murder conviction in Virginia. Defense attorneys had said Morva's killing spree was spawned by a fear of returning to jail.

But Grubbs affirmed the jury's decision to agree with Commonwealth's Attorney Brad Finch that Morva's crimes met two legal conditions to qualify for the most severe punishment: presenting a danger to society and depravity of mind.

Grubbs set an execution date of Oct. 21, but Morva will have an automatic appeal.