Morva was caught, charged and tried on two counts of capital murder. Despite Morva showing symptoms of severe mental illness, the jury sentenced him to die.
Given this history, it might surprise many that I advocate legislation in the Virginia General Assembly that would abolish the death penalty.
In theory, the death penalty may make sense: People who commit heinous acts forfeit their right to live. However, in my experience, the death penalty is not that simple, and it is inconsistent with the basic responsibilities of the government.
My moral and religious convictions led me to plead with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to change Morva’s sentence to life without parole. I believed that clemency and a change in sentence were a fair and just punishment for the man who murdered my father.
I strongly affirm the sanctity of all human life and did not agree that the government should take away Morva’s life. However, I heard no answer from McAuliffe, and Morva was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 2017.
Instead of supporting my family and me when we needed it the most, the commonwealth devoted its resources to the trial and appeals that lasted more than 10 years. Year after year, I was retraumatized by the uncertainty and was repeatedly forced to relive the worst day of my life.
Year after year, I became more certain that the death penalty is an ineffective, outdated punishment. Morva’s execution brought no solace to me, but it strengthened my resolve that the death penalty needs to be abolished.
With the abolition of the death penalty, families like mine will no longer suffer through the long process of mandatory death sentence appeals. Instead, a sentence of life in prison without parole offers a resolution and legal finality to murder victims’ family members more quickly than the death penalty.
Furthermore, life in prison without parole is a sufficiently harsh punishment for those who commit heinous murders. By saving time and resources from not pursuing or carrying out the death penalty, the commonwealth would be better able to serve victims’ family members as they adjust to their new normal by offering much-needed services and counseling. The commonwealth also would be able to spend more resources on programs that are proven to be more effective in deterring crime.
Virginia no longer needs the death penalty. Improvements in our state prison system have created supermax facilities that can handle violent offenders and protect the public for a fraction of the cost of an execution. In fact, many conservatives and libertarians in Virginia have already recognized that the death penalty should be abolished as it interferes with our principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility and protection of human life.
In more than two-thirds of the commonwealth’s localities, there has not been a state-sanctioned execution in more than 50 years. Furthermore, no one has been sentenced to death in Virginia in more than eight years. By and large, the commonwealth understands that the death penalty has no part in our modern justice system.
We should also be concerned about the very real risk of executing an innocent person.
Nationally, more than 160 innocent people who were sentenced to death were later exonerated. Sentencing an innocent person to death is too grave an error for our justice system. While the death penalty cannot be reversed, life in prison without the possibility of parole enables the government to correct a wrongful conviction and save lives. The commonwealth should abolish the death penalty to value and protect human life.
As the Virginia General Assembly prepares to convene for a new legislative session, it is time for the death penalty to be abolished to better care for victim family members, to better serve the public good and to protect human life.
I cannot reverse the death of my father or the execution of William Morva, but I can strive to seek an end to state-sanctioned executions. May justice come at last.