- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

ROANOKE (AP) — The capital murder trial for an escaped inmate who was the subject of a manhunt that paralyzed the Virginia Tech campus last year may take a while to get under way. And once it does, it is likely to be lengthy.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ray Grubbs has designated two days for jury selection beginning today for William Morva, who is charged with killing a sheriff’s deputy near campus and a hospital security guard. The trial is scheduled for three weeks.

Circuit Court Clerk Allan Burke said he has summoned about 100 prospective jurors to Christiansburg. The norm is about 30 for a criminal trial, he said, but Judge Grubbs and attorneys for both sides agreed a higher number was needed.

“The thinking is it may be difficult to seat a jury,” Mr. Burke said.

Morva’s attorneys sought to move the trial to another jurisdiction, contending the case has received such extensive publicity it would be impossible for their client to receive a fair trial. The case got additional attention because it was mentioned in news articles about the mass shootings on the Virginia Tech campus in April, they said.

Judge Grubbs said he wanted to try to seat a jury in Montgomery but has kept the defense motion under advisement.

Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brad Finch has said he will seek the death penalty for Morva, 25, on charges in the August 2006 slayings of hospital security guard Derrick McFarland, 32, and county Sheriff’s Cpl. Eric Sutphin, 40.

After being taken from jail to Montgomery Regional Hospital for treatment of an injury, Morva overpowered a sheriff’s deputy and took his pistol, which he used to kill Mr. McFarland, police said.

Morva is charged with killing Cpl. Sutphin the next day on a walking trail near the Virginia Tech campus. Cpl. Sutphin was among hundreds of police officers searching for the escaped prisoner, who was discovered in thick brush not far from where Cpl. Sutphin was slain.

The trial will be lengthy because of the number of witnesses expected to testify, defense attorney Tony Anderson. He said the defense planned to call more than 20 witnesses. Mr. Finch, the prosecutor, was not available for comment.

The police search for Morva prompted Virginia Tech to shut down on the first day of classes last year. The campus was closed again April 16, when student gunman Seung-hui Cho killed 32 people and himself.

Morva’s brother, Michael Morva, is charged in the case with conspiring to help a prisoner escape.

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