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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

A Question of Premeditation: Adam Kelly Ward set to die March 22

Adam Ward
Adam Ward
Shortly after 10am on June 13, 2005, 22-year-old Adam Kelly Ward was out front of his parents' home in Commerce, Texas, washing a car, when he started arguing with Michael Walker, a code compliance officer sent to take photographs of the home after the Wards had grown noncompliant on an unsheltered storage violation. 

Ward's father, Ralph, came outside to try to diffuse the situation, but in talking with Walker, realized his son had disappeared. Worried about the gun his bipolar and oft-agitated son kept in his bedroom, Ralph ran off to look for Ward, advising Walker to leave the property. 

Walker retreated to his truck and called for law enforcement's assistance. Moments later, however, before Ralph could find his son, Ward ran up to Walker's truck and shot the code compliance officer - 9 times in all.

In his confession, Ward told authorities that he believed the "city" was perpetually after his family, and that he feared for his own life after he and Walker started arguing. 

That worked against him, however, as prosecutors were able to point to the initial argument - plus a history of run-ins between the Ward and Walker families and the fact that Walker was unarmed - and charged Ward with shooting the officer in retaliation. 

Ward's trial attorneys attempted to argue that their client's mental state was too inept to conceive any prepared retaliation, but he was convicted of capital murder in June 2007 and sentenced to death. 

Habeas efforts filed at the state and federal levels have focused on Ward's lifelong troubles with mental illness, beginning with a bipolar diagnosis at age 4. Ward couldn't stay in school, couldn't keep a job, and in turn could not move out of his parents' deteriorating and often violent house. His habeas attorneys also pointed to a number of problems with the trial in general - like the fact that a friend and collaborator of the prosecution, Dr. Paul Zelhart, was seen having lunch and talking with jurors during the trial.

Ward's efforts for relief failed in federal court in March 2014. His appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals was denied in Jan. 2015. He got word that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case 9 months later, and on Nov. 6, he received his execution date. 

He's currently set for execution at 6pm on Tuesday, March 22. He'll be the fifth Texan executed this year, and the 536th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Source: Austin Chronicle, March 16, 2016


Ward execution date nearing

Last minute appeals continue to be filed, although an execution date is set in less than 2 weeks for a Commerce man, convicted of capital murder for the killing of one of the city's code enforcement officers almost 11 years ago.

Adam Kelly Ward is set to die on the evening of March 22.

Last fall, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Ward's 2007 conviction and sentence to death by lethal injection for the 2005 death of Michael "Pee Wee" Walker.

In January 2015 the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected Ward's formal appeal. Ward's attorneys had argued Ward's trial counsel was deficient. The court also denied a writ of habeas corpus filed in Ward's behalf in 2014.

In the writ, Ward contended his conviction and death penalty sentence were unconstitutional because he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, was not tried by an impartial jury, and is severely mentally ill.

The court reviewed the case and in a 63-page opinion denied the writ in a unanimous ruling, also noting Ward failed to make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. Ward's defense counsel then filed the formal appeal with the court.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a February 2010 ruling, also denied an appeal raised by Ward.

Walker was working as a code enforcement officer for the City of Commerce and shortly after 10 a.m. on June 13, 2005 he was taking photos of alleged code violations at the home where Ward lived on Caddo Street. The 3 engaged in a verbal altercation, which ended when Ward shot Walker as many as nine times with a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

In order to have been convicted of capital murder, the prosecution had to show Ward knowingly and intentionally either obstructed Walker's ability to do his job or retaliated against Walker for doing his job as a public servant, while in the course of committing the murder.

Defense attorneys attempted to show Ward may have been psychotic and suffering from paranoid delusions at the time of the shooting.

Ward was found mentally competent to stand trial in a separate hearing which occurred even as a jury was being impaneled to consider guilt or innocence on the capital murder charge.

Source: Herald-Banner, March 16, 2016

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