Families of murder victims urge Virginia lawmakers to abolish the death penalty

Families of murder victims urge Virginia lawmakers to abolish the death penalty

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - More than a dozen family members of murder victims are calling for an end to the death penalty in Virginia.

Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have released a letter to the General Assembly, signed by the victims families.

In the letter they explain to lawmakers they feel the Commonwealth has “an inefficient and ineffective death penalty system.”

They want to see criminal justice funding for capital murder trials spent on support programs that help victims’ families with funeral costs, counseling and other services.

The last execution in Virginia took place in 2017. William Morva was sentenced to death row for killing a hospital security guard, Derrick McFarland, and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy Corporal Eric Sutphin.

Corporal Sutphin’s daughter Rachel, was just 9 years old at the time of his death, and she is among the signatures on the letter to lawmakers.

“My moral and religious convictions led me to plead with Governor Terry McAuliffe to change Mr. Morva’s sentence to life without parole,” she explained. “I believed clemency and a change in sentence was a fair and just punishment. However, I heard no answer from Governor McAuliffe and Mr. Morva was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 2017.”

Sutphin is joining a chorus of voices who want to see the death penalty replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Sutphin wrote the following about her stance on abolishing the death penalty:

My father was killed in 2006, when I was nine years old. Despite being so young, I still think about him every day. I think about his love for practical jokes and for building anything from Lincoln Logs to tree houses. I think about him singing in the kitchen and on the way to school. I remember our numerous camping trips – catching crawdads in the creek and spending time looking up at the stars. It was my dad who taught me how to ride a bike and brush my hair. It was my dad who would pick me up from Sunday School and coached my church baseball team. I was proud of my dad- proud of his Medal of Valor, proud of his annual memorial programs for National Police Week, and proud of his stick-figure drawings that he would put in my lunchbox every day.

On August 21st, 2006, my father, Corporal Eric Sutphin, was gunned down by William Morva after a massive manhunt in Blacksburg, VA. For the ten years following, I heard of the lengthy trial and series of appeals. Again and again I heard the details of my dad’s death. I was plagued by all of the uncertainty and was repeatedly forced to relive the worst day of my life. Toward the end of the trial, I heard questions surrounding Mr. Morva’s mental health. Despite these concerns, the judge set an execution date.

My moral and religious convictions led me to plead with Governor Terry McAuliffe to change Mr. Morva’s sentence to life without parole. I believed clemency and a change in sentence was a fair and just punishment. However, I heard no answer from Governor McAuliffe and Mr. Morva was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 2017. 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. Instead, I have experienced the death penalty to be an ineffective, outdated punishment.

Mr. Morva’s execution brought no solace to me, but, instead, 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 victim family members more quickly than the death penalty. By saving time and resources from not pursuing or carrying out the death penalty, the Commonwealth would be better able to serve victim family members as they adjust to their new normal by offering much-needed services and counseling.

As the Virginia General Assembly prepares to convene for a new legislative session, I wish to tell Virginia voters and government officials my story and my desire for the end of the death penalty in Virginia. It is time for the death penalty to be abolished in order to better care for the victim’s family members, to better serve the public good, and to protect human life. I will continue writing and speaking until such a day comes.

Copyright 2019 WWBT. All rights reserved.