Supreme Court rejects appeal from Virginia death row inmate

AP News
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Posted: Feb 21, 2017 12:40 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The nation's highest court on Tuesday refused to hear the appeal of a Virginia death row inmate who killed a hospital security guard and sheriff's deputy during an escape that sparked a massive manhunt that shut down Virginia Tech's campus in 2006.

William Morva argued that he should have been allowed to present evidence that he wouldn't pose a threat to prison guards or others if he was sentenced to life in prison. But the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting Morva's claims.

Morva's attorneys didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Morva had been in jail for about a year awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges when he was taken to a Blacksburg hospital for treatment of an injury in August 2006. After arriving at the hospital, he overpowered a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy and used the deputy's pistol to shoot an unarmed security guard, 32-year-old Derrick McFarland, being fleeing.

Morva's escape set off a police manhunt that forced Virginia Tech to cancel classes on the first day of the academic year and warn students to stay inside.

A day after McFarland's killing, Morva fatally shot Montgomery County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Sutphin, who had been searching for the inmate on a walking trail near the Blacksburg campus. Later that day, police found Morva lying in a ditch with the sheriff's deputy's gun on the ground nearby.

Attorneys for Morva, now 35, told the Supreme Court that he was unfairly prevented from presenting evidence at trial to refute prosecutors' argument that Morva would threaten the lives of prison guards and others if allowed to live. Morva's trial lawyers had said a forensic psychologist would have shown jurors that Morva wasn't dangerous in prison, but they were blocked from presenting that testimony.

"With that testimony excluded, the prosecution argued freely to the jury — without fear of any meaningful rebuttal — that Mr. Morva would endanger the lives of prison guards unless sentenced to death," his attorneys told the Supreme Court.

Morva is one of six inmates on Virginia's death row. A circuit court will hold a hearing on Friday to set an execution date for another inmate, Ivan Teleguz, who was convicted in 2006 of hiring another man to kill his ex-girlfriend.

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Associated Press reporter Sam Hananel contributed to this report from Washington.

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