Due Justice Project does not normally comment on specific legal cases. However, today it must speak out about a case in which the actions of the criminal justice system reflected willful moral depravity. For the governor of Virginia to refuse to commute the sentence of William Morva on the assertion that the trial was fair is a hideous affront to the sensibilities of upright and decent people.
Let us consider that the Supreme Court ( even though they are complicit via their cold and practiced passivity in this and similar cases) has found it necessary to impose restrictions on all sorts of venal actions of the criminal justice system. Prosecutors and Judges would be putting juveniles and people with severe intellectual disabilities to death and trying people who are incompetent to stand trial had not the Supreme Court disallowed this kind of conduct.
The prosecutor in the Morva case appears to have suggested that the defense went on a shopping spree for alternative facts, i.e. a different medical diagnosis than the sham one that was presented to jurors. What an insult to well-intentioned jurors who took their duty seriously to have been asked to decision in a capital case on the basis of deficient information about very serious mental illness. In fact, in the real world, it can sometimes take many years for medical professionals to fine tune a diagnosis for someone with serious mental illness. It was denied in the trial that the accused was afflicted with psychosis.
The State moreover, went on to sure up the fallacies they presented to the jury by refusing to treat William Morva medically while imprisoned, leaving him locked-in to psychosis (which can be a horrifying state of abnormal consciousness) – the state citing that the prison staff did not observe evidence of mental illness during this period. Exactly what do they mean by this? What kind of evidence where they looking for?…manic and disorganized behavior…which is not necessarily consistent with psychosis that is principally manifested by delusional thinking? The experience of the writer of this blog is that delusion (with the anososgnia that is definitional of the condition) is the most grave and potentially dangerous symptom of serious mental illness. Tragically, a person who is afflicted with delusions without some of the more optically demonstrable symptoms (the ones that really get people’s attention) is more vulnerable to the abuses of “justice”.
It is cases like this one that demonstrate how people with mental illness are the most vulnerable unprotected people under the law. Despite the persistent efforts of advocacy initiatives like DueJusticeProject, there are people who will never be able to understand psychosis. There are people who do not care to understand, who are driven by vengeance and emotion over reason. There are people who lack the cognitive powers to understand psychosis.
For all of these reasons, the states must avail families and supporters of every means by which people with SMI can prevent their loved ones from becoming engaged with the criminal justice system. This means families and advocates must fight back and demand that the states stop obstructing them from protecting their loved ones.
There are parents who have said that they would rather have their child afflicted with cancer than serious mental illness. It is unspeakably painful and horrific to family members or caregivers to see what psychosis does to the human mind when you knew who that person was before the illness struck. The persistent fear of a loved one being caught up in the criminal justice system or harming themselves unintentionally is something that can be psychologically and physically devastating. Trying to save a loved one from a brutal criminal justice system will too often be a losing battle for relatives of the most gravely ill
William Morva was high-functioning. He suffered from what was diagnosed as Delusional Disorder. There are justifications being made to persuade sympathetic people or advocates in the general public that nothing unjust was done to him.
Fallacy: Someone who suffers from serious mental illness or who is insane is incapable of forming intent to harm, then planning and executing an organized set of actions to harm others. William Morva carried out an obviously well-planned out escape, therefore he could not have been suffering from severe mental illness and ‘knew what he was doing’
Reality: Someone who suffers from thought disorder/clinical delusions is not deprived of executive functioning unless there is damage to certain parts of the brain that control this type of capacity. Clinical Delusion is not an intellectual disorder and does not deprive the afflicted person of executive functioning. It is a neurological impairment of certain ‘mechanics’ of thinking and reasoning. Because it is neural, the person is not thinking these disordered thoughts in the same context as a well person. They are operating within an internal reality. Some of his communications showed the hallmark signs of this abnormal state of consciousness. People in this state often express themselves in a way that is strangely incriminating, yet people who do not understand what serious mental illness do not detect this and tend to interpret those expressions through a presumption of sanity. People who do understand SMI can detect it almost instantly. A person who is anosognosic is more likely than anyone else to carry through with a plan that will ultimately get them in trouble with the law, because they are operating under a defect of reason and do not audit themselves.
Assertion: Experts thoroughly evaluated William Morva and testified that he suffered from personality disorders but did not suffer from psychosis or any condition that would have prevented him from understanding his actions.
Challenge: This assertion shows a misunderstanding of clinical delusions – and moreover, incorporates the aforementioned fallacy. DJP has asserted that the field of psychology and forensic psychiatry is riddled with people who do not understand SMI or who are on the “objective anososnosia” spectrum. That means that the cognitive functionalities that fund insight into SMI are not optimal, or are impaired. These people are frequent expert witness for The State and sometimes, are the only resources available to defense attorneys. It is clear to people who have deep insight into the peculiar manifestations of clinical delusions that William Morva was suffering from serious mental illness – that was directly responsible for his actions in his failed attempt to escape. His beliefs and actions were profoundly atypical of the vast majority of incarcerated persons. -They do not plan and execute fantastical escape plans operating on a belief that all sorts of official entities are planning to allow them to die of impending fatal medical disorders such as those that he resolutely believed were killing him.
The state’s vengeance-fueled blindness and willful denial of his mental condition is directly responsible for the tragic deaths of the people he killed. Had he been adjudicated as incompetent and transferred to a medical facility for treatment, he might have gained enough insight to quell the raging fears for his life.