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Virginia governor declines to spare man awaiting execution

(AP) Virginia’s Democratic governor said Thursday that he won’t the spare the life of an inmate whose lawyers say he was under the influence of delusions when he killed two men during an escape in 2006.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement that he didn’t find a substantial enough reason to intervene in the case of 35-year-old William Morva, who is scheduled to be receive a lethal injection Thursday evening.

“At the conclusion of that review, I have determined that Mr. Morva was given a fair trial and that the jury heard substantial evidence about his mental health as they prepared to sentence him in accordance with the law of our Commonwealth,” McAuliffe said. “In short, the record before me does not contain sufficient evidence to warrant the extraordinary step of overturning the decision of a lawfully empaneled jury following a properly conducted trial.”

Morva’s attorneys say the man suffers from a profound mental illness that made him believe his life in jail was in danger when he went on the killing spree. Morva’s attorneys also said jurors weren’t aware how severe his mental illness was before they sentenced him to death.

Jailed in 2005 on accusations that he tried to rob a convenience store, Morva was subsequently taken to a hospital to treat an injury. There, he attacked a sheriff’s deputy, stole the deputy’s gun and fatally shot an unarmed security guard in the face before fleeing.

Morva’s escape triggered a manhunt that shut down Virginia Tech’s campus the first day of the school year. A day later, Morva fatally shot another deputy who was part of the search. Morva was later found in a ditch with the deputy’s gun nearby.

Jurors were told Morva suffered from a personality disorder that resulted in “odd beliefs,” but not delusions.

He has since been diagnosed with delusional disorder, a more severe mental illness akin to schizophrenia that makes it impossible for him to distinguish between delusions and reality, his attorneys said. Morva escaped and shot the two men because he believed someone in jail wanted him to die, according to his lawyers.

A prosecutor in Morva’s case had urged McAuliffe not to intervene, saying in a letter that several experts who examined Morva before his trial agreed he had a “superior IQ” and suffered from a variety of personality disorders.

“To assert some 10 years later that all three of the original experts were wrong is absurd,” Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt told McAuliffe.

-ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, Associated Press

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