NAMI Joins Campaign To Stop Virginia Execution: “False stereotypes may have played a critical role in Mr. Morva’s death sentence”


(6-28-17) I’m proud of the national and state offices of the National Alliance on Mental Illness  for writing a letter asking Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to spare the life of William Morva who is scheduled to be executed July 6th even though he has been diagnosed with delusional disorder. NAMI has joined the fight to have his sentence commuted to life in prison without parole rather than death by lethal injection. You can join the campaign to save his life. (click here to send an email to Gov. McAuliffe) 

I will be attending NAMI’s national convention in Washington D.C. this morning to hear speeches given by candidates seeking election to the five open seats on the national board. Given the controversy surrounding this year’s election, it will be fascinating to hear what each candidate has to say. If you are attending the convention, look for me and please say hello.) 




June 26, 2017

The Honorable Terence R. McAuliffe

Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia

1111 East Broad Street

Richmond, Virginia 23219


Re: Application for Executive Clemency for William Charles Morva

Dear Governor McAuliffe:

We are writing on behalf of the national office of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and NAMI-Virginia to respectfully request that you commute William Morva’s death sentence to life in prison due to his long term severe mental illness. NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots organization advocating on behalf of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI Virginia is NAMI’s state organization in Virginia and the largest grassroots organization focused on mental health conditions in the state, with 17 local affiliates throughout the state.

As Chief Executive Officer of NAMI and the Interim Executive Director of NAMI-Virginia respectively, we are all too aware of the harmful impact that false, negative stereotypes associating mental illness with violence can have on societal perceptions and the willingness of people with mental illness to seek help. However, we are also aware that a small number of people may engage in acts of violence due to the symptoms of their severe illnesses. In some cases, like in William Morva’s case, powerful delusions or hallucinations may lead a person to act in ways they never would have otherwise.

Societal lack of understanding about mental illness is one of the reasons NAMI supports an exemption to the death penalty for people with severe mental illness. People with these conditions are more likely to be sentenced to death than those without mental illness due to false perceptions that these individuals are inherently violent and beyond redemption. We also know that jurors are frequently presented with inaccurate information about defendants with severe mental illness, reinforcing perceptions that the crimes were products of willful choices rather than the severe, untreated symptoms of their mental illness. Jurors often do not receive information about the effectiveness of treatment.

Click to continue…

Prosecutor Shows No Mercy: Flippantly Says Everyone Can Pay For A Diagnosis

Photo by Roanoke Times

Photo by Roanoke Times

(6-27-17) The Washington Post published an excellent story written by Ann E. Marimow  last weekend about Virginia’s plan to execute a 35 year -old man with delusional disorder. I wrote about the case last Friday and efforts to stop the execution.

William Morva is scheduled to be put to death on July 6th unless Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe commutes his death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

The psychiatrist who initially examined him determined Morva had a personality disorder, but said the condition was not severe enough to have impaired his judgment.  When the case was appealed, the court appointed a psychiatrist who interviewed Morva while his legal team dug deeper into his background uncovering facts about his descent into madness previously not available to the court or jurors. The appellate  psychiatrist determined that Morva suffers from three subtypes of a serious mental illness called delusional disorder. A neuropsychologist who reviewed Morva’s records agreed.

How did Montgomery County (Va.) commonwealth’s attorney, Mary K. Pettitt, who helped prosecute Morva, react. She wrote to the governor urging Morva’s execution and dismissing the new diagnosis, according to the Post story, which quoted her writing:

“With enough time and motivation one can always find an expert to say what you want to hear but that doesn’t mean it is true or accurate.” 

Prosecutor Pettit

Prosecutor Pettit

Flippant? Insulting? Impertinent? Using that same logic, one could say the same about the prosecution’s witnesses, couldn’t they?

But wait, here’s some additional facts.

Contrary to Prosecutor Pettit’s accusation, no one shopped around for the “right expert.” The psychiatrist appointed by the federal court was the only expert appointed by a court after trial and the only expert to have interviewed Morva and considered his complete psychiatric history. The Attorney General’s Office (who represents Virginia on appeals) could have had Morva evaluated by their own expert after he was diagnosed with delusional disorder, but it never bothered to go back to the federal court and ask for that evaluation. After all, it was only a man’s life hanging in the balance.

Section C of the the American Bar Association says:

(c) The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.

You decide.

Click to continue…

NAMI Sends Out Appeal To Law Enforcement Asking For Help: Medicaid Cuts Will Hurt Thousands

(6-26-17) The National Alliance on Mental Illness is asking law enforcement officers to help stop Trump-care because it will lead to even more individuals with mental illnesses ending up in jails.)

From NAMI National

Dear Law Enforcement Partners,

NAMI is grateful for everything you do to support people with mental illness and their families.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate released the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) of 2017. Like the House health reform bill, it would drastically cut Medicaid, a program that provides vital services that keep people off the streets, out of jails and in recovery.

It would also result in tens of millions of Americans losing access to mental health and substance abuse care.

This is the worst threat we’ve seen to mental health services in decades.

Click to continue…

Virginia To Execute Man On July 6th With Serious Mental Illness! Attorneys Urge Calls To Gov. McAuliffe For Commutation

(6-23-17) Virginia is scheduled to execute William Morva on July 6th, unless Governor Terry McAuliffe commutes his death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Morva has a debilitating mental illness called delusional disorder that makes him believe his delusions are real.

He should not be put to death.

In August 2005, Morva was arrested for attempting to rob a convenience store. The clerk testified that armed masked men approached the glass doors of the store but when the doors did not open automatically, the men ran away. Eventually, Morva was arrested and charged with a string of attempted thefts—each as ill-conceived and poorly executed as the next. The other young men with him were released on bail and received short sentences. But Morva’s mother recognized that her son was sick. She left him in a Virginia jail under the mistaken belief he would get treatment. He didn’t.

Even though his family contacted jail officials to express concern about his deteriorating mental health, he was not evaluated or treated by any psychologist or psychiatrist. His symptoms grew worse. He believed that he had been wrongly arrested. As he grew sicker and sicker, he became convinced he was being held in jail by some unknown figure who wanted to kill him.  

A year after he was arrested, he told jail officials that he needed to be taken to a hospital because he was sick. Once there, he overpowered the guard watching him and took his service weapon. While fleeing the hospital grounds, he shot and killed Derrick McFarland, an unarmed hospital security guard. The next day he fatally shot Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Sutphin who’d spotted Morva walking on a local trail. He was captured that afternoon.

Morva murdered both men. I am sorry for the families of both and do not wish to diminish their losses. Death penalty cases always involve horrific crimes.

But as the father of a son with a mental illness, I have seen how delusions can alter an individual’s reality so that they do not understand their actions. This seems to be the case with William Morva who showed signs of mental distress long before he tried to escape from jail.

One of the issues that troubles me about cases such as this is the belief that someone who has a mental illness is incapable of rational thought and actions. Ergo, if Morva could plan and carry out his escape, he knew what he was doing and, therefore, deserves to die.

This idea is nonsense. I can remember having rational conversations with my son at the breakfast table about the daily headlines while, at the same time, he was convinced that God had chosen him for a special, secret mission and he needed to rescue a former high school girlfriend who he’d gotten pregnant. None of it was true.

Click to continue…

Questions about Virginia’s National NAMI Board Candidate: Smart and Independent




Here’s an excerpt from an email that I received this week.

The (not named for privacy reasons) state hospital was putting my delusional, psychotic granddaughter on a Greyhound bus to Colorado in the dead of winter. Fortunately, she realized it was too risky & called me. Her social worker said “that’s what she wanted & the DR. okayed it.” They put her in a cab the next day to our home an hour away without notifying me. Again, the social worker said she called & left a message. I had given her the cell phone number to prevent that but, she called the house & answering machine. Our granddaughter was so sick she had to go to the doctor for strep throat & they were putting her on a bus to travel for two days. She had no money to travel on. My vet is a more compassionate than the people who released her.

I believe the role of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is to speak out loudly about such questionable behavior by mental health workers.

This is why it is important for you to participate in NAMI’s board elections that currently are being held in anticipation of its upcoming Washington D.C. convention. I have posted the list of candidates once again at the end of this blog and would urge you to read every candidate’s statements.

I did not intend to write any more about the election, but I have received numerous emails from Virginia chapters asking me if I know Frankie Berger, Nominated by NAMI Central Virginia (Virginia), personally or have worked with her on Capitol Hill. This is because I live in Fairfax, Virginia, and other chapters in our state are curious if I have any ” inside scoop” about our state’s candidate.

Let me first say, that I have studied all of the nominees’ qualifications and listened to their personal stories and all are compelling. Although candidates may have strongly differing opinions, all are committed to improving the lives of those with mental illnesses. All of them deserve your careful study. Having written that, I want to answer the email questions sent to me by Virginia chapters about Ms. Berger.

Yes, I know Ms. Berger and have appeared on discussion panels with her on Capitol Hill and also have worked alongside her on various legislation. She is the Director of Advocacy for the Treatment Advocacy Center, but she is not a candidate on the “Focus on Serious Mental Illness ” platform. Because of her employment, some email writers have asked me if she is someone who would be open to positions other than those being endorsed by TAC.

Click to continue…

My Sister Died 51 Years Ago When I was 14. Memories Fade, But The Loss Never Does.

(6-14-17) My only sister, Alice, died on this date fifty-one years ago after being struck by an automobile. I was 14 years-old at the time and it was my first experience with death. Nineteen years later, I awoke one night calling out her name. I realized then that I had repressed most of my memories about Alice because her death was so painful that my parents rarely discussed it. My good friend, Walt Harrington, who was then an editor at the Washington Post, suggested that I return to Colorado and investigate my own sister’s death as a reporter. Here is the story that I wrote in 1986. I am posting it today in her memory.With the passage of time, the hurt and memories fade, but in your heart, you still feel the loss.)

Missing Alice: The Story of My Sister

By Pete Earley for The Washington Post

Pete Earley and His Sister AliceMidway across Ohio, the man beside me on the DC-10 asked where I was going.

“Fowler, Colorado. A little town of about a thousand people near Pueblo.”

“Why would anyone go to Foouuller?” he asked, grinning as he exaggerated the name.

“A death. My sister.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled and turned away.

I was relieved. I didn’t have to explain that my sister had been dead 19 years. Alice was killed when I was 14. She was two years older and we had been inseparable as children.

I couldn’t talk about her death at first. My voice would deepen, my eyes would fill with tears. My parents would cry at the mention of her name, and we rarely spoke of her. Then it seemed too late.

After I left home, my mother would phone me each February 13 and remind me that it was my sister’s birthday. Year after year, I would forget — and find myself angry with my mother’s insistent reminders. It was just before last Christmas, as I shuffled boxes in the basement, that I ran across Alice’s picture and clipping describing her death.

“A tragic accident Tuesday, June 14, about 7:05 p.m., took the life of Alice Lee Earley…” I sat down on the concrete floor, closed my eyes and tried to picture her. I couldn’t. I tried to focus more sharply. Alice eating Sugar Pops beside me at the breakfast table. Alice washing the green Ford Falcon. Alice stepping on my toes while singing in Church.

The events I recalled vividly. Alice’s face I recalled not at all.

I could only see the girl in the photograph — an image I had never liked, the face being without joy or expression. But in my mind I found no other. For the next week, I seemed to think of Alice constantly.

One night I awoke in bed, turned to my wife, and said, “Alice, are you there?” It took me an instant to realize what I had done.

Click to continue…