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Morva v. Davis

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 12, 2014

WILLIAM CHARLES MORVA, No. 1205820 Petitioner,
KEITH W. DAVIS, Warden Sussex I State Prison, Respondent.



This matter is before the court on the motion of petitioner William Charles Morva to find him incompetent and to stay these proceedings pending his restoration to competency. Motion to Find Morva Incompetent and Stay Proceedings Pending His Restoration, Dkt. # 57. Petitioner requests an evidentiary hearing on his competency motion. Morva’s Request for a Hearing and Memorandum in Support, Dkt. # 76. Respondent opposes these requests. Warden’s Opposition to Morva’s Motion to Stay, Dkt. # 62; Warden’s Opposition to Morva’s Motion for Hearing, Dkt. # 77. Following a psychiatric evaluation by forensic psychiatrist Donna Schwartz-Watts, M.D. on August 21, 2014, Morva filed a supplemental motion. Second Supplement to Morva’s Motion to Find Morva Incompetent and Stay Proceedings Pending His Restoration, Dkt. # 112.

Morva was charged by the Commonwealth of Virginia with the capital murder of Derrick McFarland, a security guard at Montgomery Regional Hospital, on August 20, 2006, and Corporal Eric Sutphin, of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, on August 21, 2006. The Commonwealth contended that Morva, a pretrial detainee at the Montgomery County Jail, sought medical attention for leg and forearm injuries on the evening of August 19, 2006. Montgomery County Sherriff’s Deputy Russell Quesenberry transported Morva in waist chains to the hospital but did not secure the arm Morva claims to have injured. Following treatment and before heading back to the jail, Morva asked to use the bathroom at the hospital’s emergency room. Using a metal toilet paper holder he removed from the wall, Morva beat Quesenberry unconscious and took his police pistol. The Commonwealth alleged that Morva exited the bathroom and encountered the unarmed hospital security guard, Derrick McFarland. Morva shot McFarland in the face at close range and fled. On the morning of August 21, 2006, during the course of the ensuing manhunt, Morva encountered Corporal Eric Sutphin on the Huckleberry Trail, a local greenway in Montgomery County. The Commonwealth alleged that Sutphin’s police pistol was holstered when Morva shot him in the back of the head. Both Quesenberry and Supthin died from their gunshot wounds.

A jury convicted Morva of all charges, including three counts of capital murder, following a six day jury trial conducted in the Circuit Court of Washington County in March 2008.[1] Morva raised a number of issues on direct appeal, all of which were rejected by the Virginia Supreme Court in its decision of September 18, 2009. Morva v. Commonwealth, 278 Va. 329, 683 S.E.2d 553 (2009). Morva filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court on December 3, 2010, which the Virginia Supreme Court dismissed on April 12, 2013. Morva v. Warden of the Sussex I State Prison, 285 Va. 511, 741 S.E.2d 761 (2013).

Morva filed a Notice of Intent to File a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in federal court on June 17, 2013, and the court appointed counsel on June 26, 2013. Morva filed an initial habeas Petition on September 19, 2013 and an Amended Petition on December 18, 2013. Also on December 18, 2013, Morva filed the pending motion that he be found incompetent and the habeas proceedings stayed. On February 23, 2014, Morva filed a motion for a hearing on his motion to find him incompetent and to stay the habeas case.[2]

On July 18, 2014, the court conducted a hearing on Morva’s request to proceed pro se and for substitution of counsel, which motions were denied. At the hearing, Morva, who had previously refused to meet with court appointed forensic psychiatrist Donna Schwartz-Watts, agreed to meet with her. An evaluation session was scheduled, and Morva’s counsel was granted leave of court to file a Second Amended Petition on or before September 8, 2014.

In the Second Amended Petition filed on September 8, 2014, Morva raises the same twelve claims raised in his Amended Petition.[3] With two exceptions, all of the claims raised in the Second Amended Petition were raised either on direct appeal or in Morva’s state habeas petition. Those exceptions are Claims IV and VIIIB, which present questions of law. “Given the backward-looking, record-based nature, ” Ryan v. Gonzales, 133 S.Ct. 696, 704 (2013), of Morva’s habeas claims, the court concludes that there is no need for a stay or competency evaluation. Because of the nature of the claims that Morva has raised, his counsel can “provide effective representation . . . regardless of the petitioner’s competence.” Id. Accordingly, Morva’s motion to stay and for a competency evaluation is DENIED.


Morva’s federal habeas counsel assert in the motion that they have not been “able to gain sufficient trust with Morva to obtain his assistance with the investigation and presentation of his federal habeas claims.” Dkt. # 57, at 1. Counsel argue that Morva exhibits signs of serious mental illness and that his condition has declined, rendering him unwilling and/or incapable of assisting with his federal habeas case.

Federal habeas counsel argue that they have been severely hampered by the absence of any assistance from Morva. For roughly ten weeks prior to the filing of the Amended Petition on December 18, 2013, Morva “severed all communications with his appointed counsel. Mr. Morva did not call, refused visits and refused mail.” Dkt. #112, at 2. Although Morva resumed communications in February, 2014, counsel indicate that “[h]e was still uncooperative for that and subsequent phone calls, and remains so. Mr. Morva no longer refuses mail, but has refused all visits except Mr. Sheldon’s August 21, 2014, visit for the evaluation.” Id. Counsel recount that during the August 21, 2014 evaluation, Morva “insisted he could never work with appointed counsel and alleged that his court appointed attorneys were receiving bribes to botch his appeals.” Id. Morva’s counsel conclude that “there is no doubt that Mr. Morva has a serious mental illness and the evidence is overwhelming that he is unable to assist counsel and therefore incompetent.” Id.[4]

In the Psychiatric Evaluation appended to Morva’s supplemental motion, Dr. Schwartz-Watts concludes that Morva meets “the diagnostic criteria for a Delusional Disorder, persecutory type.” Psychiatric Evaluation, Dkt. # 112-1, at 6. Dr. Schwartz-Watts indicated that Morva “does not meet the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia at this time. His thought processes were organized and he is not hallucinating. There are no records that indicate he has hallucinated.” Id. Dr. Schwartz-Watts’ Psychiatric Evaluation contains the following opinion:

Mr. Morva is not able to assist his attorneys. He reports they are being bribed and are attempting to “botch his appeals.” He also reports he does not feel safe with them. Delusional Disorders are difficult to treat, however Mr. Morva has reportedly never been treated with medication.

Id. With regard to Morva’s mental state, Dr. Schwartz-Watts makes the following recommendation:

Although delusional disorders are less likely to respond to antipsychotic medication, Mr. Morva has not been previously treated. His mental status may improve with treatment.


Morva’s counsel argue that in order to establish deficient performance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 691 (1984), it is “necessary and critical to discuss with Morva the relationship, if any, he had with his trial and state post-conviction lawyers.” Id. Counsel continue:
Morva will also need to be able to relate whether prior counsel asked for historical information concerning his mental health, medical and family history, whether prior counsel asked Morva to sign releases of information, whether prior counsel consulted with Morva about the details of the claim that federal habeas counsel are first raising, and what additional defenses would have been available at trial. Or, if none of this happened, Morva needs to be able to explain that his prior counsel sought no information from him, presented no facts to him, failed to consult him concerning relevant issues, or sought no waiver of presentation from Morva. All of this information is necessary to prove the first prong of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim under Strickland.

Dkt. # 57, at 22.

Morva’s counsel argue that “claims IX-XII[ ], involving trial counsel’s failure to sufficiently investigate and present evidence to Morva’s mental health experts and the court, are highly fact dependent, went undeveloped in state habeas, and will remain only partially developed unless and until this Court stays the proceedings and allows the prison to restore Morva’s competence.” Id. at 21.

In the supplemental motion, Morva’s counsel add:
Prior counsel failed to use information provided by Mr. Morva regarding abuse and threats he claimed he suffered at the jail because of the difficulty of determining whether these were delusions, exaggerations or facts. Mr. Morva has insisted that he was shackled and dropped on his face by deputies at the jail, dislocating his jaw, that he was burned by a deputy with a cigarette, and that deputies and law enforcement threatened him with beatings and even death. Not only are these facts compelling, if true, for several of Mr. Morva’s sentencing claims, but would have been entirely consistent with trial counsel’s strategy. In addition, a non-delusional Mr. Morva would have presented a far different visage to the jury than the Charles Manson-like cold hearted, long-bearded unapologetic defendant. If Mr. Morva is medicated, he will likely be able and willing to show the remorse that his trial counsel so desperately needed and wanted him to show at trial.

Dkt. # 112, at 3. Because there is “great hope that Morva will be restored in a short time with reasonable treatment, ” id., his counsel argue that the case be stayed until he can be restored to competency.

In his opposition, Keith W. Davis, the Warden of Sussex I State Prison (“Warden”), responds that Morva has not demonstrated that he is incompetent, and that even if he was incompetent, “[g]iven the backward-looking, record-based nature of most federal habeas proceedings, counsel can generally provide effective representation to a habeas ...

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