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Prosecutor pushes for Virginia man’s execution despite signs of serious mental illness

Prosecutor pushes for Virginia man’s execution despite signs of serious mental illness

By all accounts William Morva has serious mental health issues, but he is still likely to be executed next month, with the prosecutor who convicted him pushing for his execution.

Morva is now scheduled to be executed on July 6. He has exhausted his appeals and his only chance now appears to be if Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe commutes his sentence.

McAuliffe has said he’s reviewing the case.

Mary Pettitt, the Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney, has urged McAuliffe to let the execution go forward. Pettitt prosecuted Morva when she was an assistant prosecutor and argues that he’s not mentally ill.

Morva has declined to see his lawyers or his mother for years, insisting they are part of a conspiracy to kill him.

Morva was convicted of the 2006 murders of Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eric Sutphin and hospital security guard Derrick McFarland in Blacksburg, Virginia. He was sentenced to death even though his lawyers claimed he suffered from serious mental illness that made it difficult for him to ascertain what is real and what are his delusions.

The U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of people who committed crimes while they were juveniles and also barred the execution of people who are intellectually disabled. Individuals with severe mental illness may not be executed if their understanding of the reason they are being punished is so degraded as to undermine the retributive goal of imposing that punishment. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has so far declined to intervene in Morva’s case.

At his trial doctors said Morva was not delusional, something his mother and his lawyers strongly dispute.

According to the Washington Post, years before Morva committed murder, “In Blacksburg, he walked barefoot in winter and sometimes slept in the Jefferson National Forest, buried in piles of leaves. He was known at the local coffee shop for diatribes about politics and religion, and confided in family and close friends about what he said were special powers he possessed to fix the world’s problems.”

After the jury that convicted him recommended death, Morva had a chance to speak and went on a diatribe.

“I’m almost done. You may kill me, that’s guaranteed. I can’t fight,” Morva said. “There’s nothing more I can do. But there are others like me, and I hope you know that. And soon they’re going to get together. They’re going to sweep over your whole civilization and they’re going to wipe these smiles off of your faces forever.”

The sad, stupid and tragic fall of Seth Williams

The sad, stupid and tragic fall of Seth Williams

The future was limitless for Seth Williams when he was sworn in as district attorney of Philadelphia almost eight years ago.

Williams was the first African-American to ever be elected district attorney in the state of Pennsylvania. At the time of his election in 2009 it was easy to imagine him going on to greater things since the district attorney position has served as a launching pad for many of the previous occupants of the office.

Former district attorney Arlen Specter became a senator, Ed Rendell became mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania, and Ronald Castille became Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

But Williams will never hold any of those positions, and he may soon lose his freedom. With his term as district attorney expiring at the end of 2017 Williams has been spending his days in a federal courthouse defending himself against bribery and extortion charges.

Williams is accused of using campaign funds for his personal use and showing favoritism to supporters who gave him money. He received $160,000 worth of gifts, some of which came from businessman Mohammad Ali, including a Caribbean vacation and a $3,200 couch, while Williams helped Ali with issues he had with security screeners at Philadelphia International Airport and looked into a criminal case that involved an associate of Ali’s.

Ali testified against Williams last week.

“It’s good to know someone in power,” Ali said. “If you ever need anything, it’s good to have someone make a phone call.”

Williams is also accused of accepting a Jaguar convertible and accepting free vacations from businessman Michael Weiss, who is the owner of a prominent Philadelphia gay bar called Woody’s. In return Williams helped Weiss deal with regulatory problems involving the liquor license for another bar Weiss owned in California, prosecutors said.

Weiss took the stand earlier this week. When prosecutors asked him if he’s bribed Williams, he answered with a shrug.

Lawyers for Williams argue that while he made mistakes, he never broke the law and that the gifts he accepted were not for future favors.

Williams’s fall from grace is also tragic. He took office promising to help reform the criminal justice system, but today Philadelphia’s jail incarceration rate is higher than anywhere in the country and about 25 percent of the people arrested for misdemeanors remain in jail because they can’t afford to pay for bail.

As my colleague Josie Duffy Rice wrote earlier this year about Williams, “Over the past seven years, he has tried to look the part of the bombastic, idealistic outsider fighting for justice. He has behaved instead like a timorous yet power-hungry insider fighting for no one. He has either valued the wrong principles or none at all, and poor people and communities of color have had to pay.”

Williams is still the DA in Philadelphia but has temporarily surrendered his law license. He is not running for reelection and is likely to be succeeded by civil rights attorney Larry Krasner, who won the Democratic primary earlier this year on a promise of ending cash bail, holding police accountable and trying to keep more people out of jails and prisons.

Krasner will face off against Republican nominee Beth Grossman in November. But Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one in the City of Brotherly Love, making Krasner the favorite.

Williams’s trial is expected to continue for several weeks.

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California district attorney resigns after pleading no contest to felony

California district attorney resigns after pleading no contest to felony

Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson has resigned in disgrace after taking thousands of dollars from his campaign account and spending it on meals, clothes and for other personal needs.

Peterson was charged with 13 felonies by the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, but within hours had resigned and pleaded no contest to one felony charge of perjury for making false statements on state campaign disclosure documents, with all the other counts being dropped.

The charges stem from Peterson using $66,000 of campaign money for personal use. He was sentenced to 250 hours of community service, three years of probation and will be prohibited from running for public office during his probation.

He could also face disbarment or have his law license suspended.

Peterson was in his second term of office and in the process of running for a third term. He was first elected in 2010 and reelected without an opponent in 2014.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The actions brought a remarkably swift conclusion to a rare criminal case filed by state prosecutors against an elected county district attorney.”

Peterson was previously fined $45,000 by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. “According to the FPPC inquiry, Peterson used campaign funds for about 600 personal expenditures totaling $66,372, including groceries, jewelry store bills and movie tickets,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

A civil grand jury had also recommended that Peterson resign. That recommendation was supported by the editorial board of the East Bay Times.

“If Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson cared one iota about the integrity of his office and the reputation of county law enforcement, he would do the honorable thing: resign,” the editorial said. “But Peterson doesn’t care and he’s not honorable. Rather, he’s a self-centered law-breaker.”

Peterson’s departure will be welcomed by criminal justice advocates. Throughout his tenure in office Peterson has supported minimum mandatory sentencing like three strikes and you’re out, claimed racism has nothing to do with the large number of black people in prison, and also vocally supportedthe death penalty even as his neighboring prosecutor, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, has repeatedly called for ending it.

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