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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…

Texas: Appeals court denies stay of execution for Adam Kelly Ward

Adam Ward
Adam Ward
The state's highest criminal appeals court has denied a stay of execution for a Commerce man, who claims he was mentally ill when he shot and killed 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 and was convicted of capital murder in connection with the 2005 death of Michael "Pee Wee" Walker.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week denied a stay of execution for Ward, one of the last appeals which can be filed before Ward faces death by lethal injection.

The court's ruling: "In his application, applicant makes a single claim that evolving standards of decency should exempt him from execution because he is a severely mentally ill individual. After reviewing his application, we have determined that applicant has failed to meet the dictates of Article 11.071, # 5. Accordingly, we dismiss the application as an abuse of the writ without considering the merits of the claim, and we deny his motion to stay the execution."

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

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.

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 2 engaged in a verbal altercation, which ended when Ward shot Walker as many as 9 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 17, 2016

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