Daughter of Murdered Officer Prefers Mercy While Va. Governor Prefers Politics

(12-1-17) Outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who apparently has hopes of running for president in 2020, should read an editorial written yesterday by the daughter of a law enforcement officer who was murdered by  William Morva, a 35 year-old man with a severe mental illness.

McAuliffe, who claims to be opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds, refused to stop Morva’s execution in July despite pleas by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, numerous elected leaders and The Washington Post.

At the time, there was speculation that McAuliffe didn’t want to appear soft on crime because he intended to make a run for the White House.  His actions mirrored how then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton hurried back to Arkansas in the midst of a presidential campaign in 1992 to approve the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, another prisoner with mental impairments. Rector left a piece of pie on the side of the tray when he was served his last meal. He told the corrections officers who came to take him to the execution chamber that he was “saving it for later.”

No solace in executing mentally ill killers

By Rachel Sutphin published in the Bristol Herald Courier newspaper in Virginia

As a family member who has suffered the death of a loved one to homicide, I support legislation in the Virginia General Assembly that would exclude people with severe mental illness from the death penalty.

I am the daughter of the late Corporal Eric Sutphin, who was killed by William Morva during a manhunt in 2006.

My dad was and is my hero.

He was so courageous, humble and light-hearted. The community loved him, and I loved being a police officer’s daughter. I have every reason to hate Mr. Morva and want revenge. Yet, when clemency was denied to Morva and he was executed this July, I felt great sorrow. It provided no solace for my loss.

Under this proposed legislation, offenders with severe mental illness at the time of the crime could be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole if found guilty — but could not be executed. For this narrow exemption to apply, defendants must have documented evidence of a mental illness that is so severe it prevented them from fully understanding reality and the consequences of their actions — making them undeserving of the ultimate punishment.

 It is already unconstitutional to execute those with intellectual disability because of their similar impairments and inabilities to fully understand the implications of their actions and the complex legal processes they face. Excluding people with severe mental disorders or disabilities from the death penalty would simply treat these individuals the same way that we treat people with intellectual disabilities.

Seeking the death penalty in these cases is inefficient, ineffective and traumatic for many families.

Such capital prosecutions:

 Distract the public and the judicial system from the more important issues of what victims’ families and their communities need to heal and become safer. Criminal justice funding for expensive capital murder trials could be better spent on much-needed and currently underfunded victim support programs that help victims’ families with funeral costs, counseling and other services.

 Delay justice and the healing process for many family members who lost loved ones. Capital cases take many years to reach completion, forcing our families to deal with mandatory court appeals and the legal system much longer than with a non-capital trial or plea bargain.

 Cause damage to the families of the offender. Many family members of defendants with mental illness were unable to access or afford medical care for their loved one who was suffering from mental illness prior to and when their crime was committed. There is a lack of preventative community treatment options for those with severe mental illness and limits on their treatment while incarcerated.

It would be far better to focus our limited resources on crime victims’ families support and preventive mental health treatment, rather than seeking death for those with severe mental illness. This proposal would not allow people who commit capital crimes to go free, but would ensure that the punishment appropriately matches the offender and would allow families to feel more confident that justice was served.

 Rachel Sutphin is a Senior in the Honors College at Virginia Tech with a dual major in Religion and Culture and Human Development and a minor in Judaic Studies.
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.