Matt Gentry  /  AP
William Morva, 26, in court during jury selection, was portrayed during his trial as an eccentric free spirit with a personality disorder.
updated 6/23/2008 3:01:16 PM ET 2008-06-23T19:01:16

A jail escapee who set off a manhunt near Virginia Tech's campus by killing a hospital guard and later, a sheriff's deputy, was sentenced to death Monday despite his attorney's pleas for leniency.

William Morva, 26, was convicted of capital murder in March for the August 2006 killings. A jury had previously recommended the death penalty.

Before Morva was sentenced, defense attorney Thomas Blaylock pleaded for mercy. Morva said few people in the courtroom "understand what that means," a statement that evoked an angry outburst from the widow of one of his victims.

"You didn't show no mercy when you killed my husband. ... You deserve to burn in hell," Cindy McFarland yelled before being escorted out of the courtroom.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ray Grubbs told Morva he was imposing the death penalty because "lives have been shattered" by crimes that were committed "all for no other reason than your own selfish motives."

Morva was a jail inmate who had been taken to a Blacksburg hospital for treatment of an injury when he overpowered a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy there. He used the deputy's pistol to shoot security guard Derrick McFarland, 32, who was unarmed.

Morva shot Sheriff's Cpl. Eric Sutphin, 40, one day later on a walking trail near the Virginia Tech campus, which had been shut down on the first day of classes during a police manhunt for him.

The trial was moved 100 miles away because of difficulty seating a jury.

Jurors heard emotional prosecution testimony about the two men's lives. Family members and those who witnessed McFarland's killing testified that they still suffer from nightmares.

The defense portrayed Morva as an eccentric free spirit with a personality disorder. Defense attorney Tony Anderson argued that life in prison would be a more severe punishment than death for Morva, whose killing spree was spawned by a fear of returning to jail.

Grubbs on Monday affirmed the jury's decision to agree with Commonwealth's Attorney Brad Finch that Morva's crimes met two legal conditions to qualify for the most severe punishment: presenting a danger to society and depravity of mind.

He set an execution date of Oct. 21, but Morva will have an automatic appeal.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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