- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ABINGDON, Va. — A jury yesterday convicted an escaped inmate of capital murder in the deaths of a hospital security guard and a sheriff’s deputy.

The Washington County Circuit Court jury deliberated for about 3½ hours before finding William Morva guilty of the August 2006 slayings in Montgomery County.

Yesterday afternoon, jurors began hearing more testimony before deciding whether to sentence Morva, 26, to death or to life in prison without parole. Those are the only two sentencing options in capital murder cases in Virginia.

Relatives and colleagues of security guard Derrick McFarland and sheriff’s Cpl. Eric Sutphin testified for the prosecution, saying through tears that the slayings of men who went out of their way to help people have caused them nightmares. Their widows and several co-workers said they need medication and counseling.

The jury of seven women and five men heard three days of testimony in the trial, held here because of difficulty seating jurors in Montgomery County. Morva was convicted of seven charges, including overpowering a sheriff’s deputy at a hospital and using the deputy’s pistol to kill Mr. McFarland, 32. He also was found guilty of killing Cpl. Sutphin, 40, one day later near the Virginia Tech campus.

The manhunt for Morva caused Virginia Tech to cancel classes on the first day of its fall 2006 semester.

Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bradley W. Finch portrayed Morva as a cold-blooded killer.

Mr. McFarland, who was unarmed, was shot in the face from two feet away. Cpl. Sutphin had not drawn his gun and was shot in the back of the head with the same semiautomatic 40 mm handgun.

Cindy McFarland said she sometimes has had to leave work early because she “couldn’t deal with life” without her husband and that she had to switch from working the third shift to ease her children’s fears that “I wouldn’t come home.”

Tamara Sutphin, who had been Cpl. Sutphin’s high school sweetheart and was married to him for 20 years, said she feels like she is “just existing” and is angry that she can’t be truly happy again.

“I look forward to something coming up, and it’s just a reminder that Eric’s not there,” she said.

Both women broke down as they described how their once-carefree children have changed.

The defense contended that Morva had felt a building sense of frustration in jail, where he had been held for months without bond after his arrest on attempted robbery charges. Defense attorney Thomas Blaylock said Morva suffered from mental problems and severe sinus and digestive difficulties.

In testimony yesterday, two nurses who were at Montgomery County Regional Hospital the night Mr. McFarland was killed said they still suffer from nightmares and must take medication and receive counseling.

“I lost a lot of my innocence that night,” said Dawn Doss, who has left the hospital because she said she couldn’t stand to walk down the hallway where Mr. McFarland’s body lay.

Melissa Epperly testified that she has vivid memories of taking Mr. McFarland’s hand as she helped try to resuscitate him and “I tried to bring him back.”

Today, the defense will present its case for sparing Morva’s life.

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