Virginia man facing execution draws international support for clemency

William Charles Morva is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters June 29, 2017. Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - A Virginia inmate convicted of killing two men during a 2006 escape from custody is set to be put to death on Thursday in an execution that has drawn international pleas for clemency on grounds that he is severely mentally ill.

William Morva, 35, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 9 p.m. EDT on Thursday (0100 GMT on Friday) at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia.

Morva's lawyers are asking Governor Terry McAuliffe to commute his sentence, arguing he suffers from delusional disorder, an illness akin to schizophrenia. They say the jury that convicted him was given incorrect information about his ailment and its severity.

Morva, who holds dual Hungarian-American citizenship, was being held in the Montgomery County Jail on robbery charges when he was taken to a hospital in August 2006 for minor injuries.

In an attempt to escape, he stole a gun from a deputy sheriff at the hospital and shot an unarmed security guard to death. The next day, before being recaptured, Morva shot a deputy sheriff who was searching for him.

Dawn Davison, one of Morva's lawyers, said in a statement on Wednesday that Morva's mental health had worsened because prison doctors had refused to treat him. More than 34,000 people have petitioned McAuliffe to spare his life, she said.

The Hungarian Embassy in Washington and the European Union have written McAuliffe seeking clemency. United Nations human rights experts said this week that Morva's original trial did not meet fair trial safeguards.

Twenty Virginia state lawmakers sent a letter to McAuliffe, saying Morva's sentence should be commuted to life in prison without parole.

The daughter of the slain deputy sent an email to media outlets saying she had told McAuliffe she also supported sparing Morva's life, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported.

Brian Coy, a spokesman for the Democratic governor, said in an email that the governor "takes a decision like this very seriously and that he is careful reviewing all of the materials in this case."

The U.S. Supreme Court declined in February to hear Morva's appeal.

If carried out, Thursday's execution will be the 113th in Virginia since the Supreme Court allowed resumption of the death penalty in 1976. That number would place Virginia second among states on the U.S. executions list behind Texas, which has had 542, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

There have been 13 U.S. executions this year, the center said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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