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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Texas executes Adam Ward

Adam Ward
Adam Ward
Adam Kelly Ward, 33, was put to death by lethal injection Tuesday in Huntsville, Texas, for the 2005 murder of a Commerce city code enforcement worker. 

Ward was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 6:22pm and declared dead at 6:34pm.

The 33-year-old Ward thanked his supporters, expressed love for his parents and said he hoped "some positive change can come from this."

But he insisted the shooting was not a capital murder case. "This is wrong what's happening. A lot of injustice is happening in all this," he said.

"I'm sorry things didn't work out," he added later. "May God forgive us all."

Hours before his execution, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal that argued his mental illness should have disqualified him from the death penalty. 

Adam Ward, who had been on death row since 2007, was convicted of killing a city worker in 2005 over a dispute concerning large amounts of trash piled up outside his house in Commerce, Texas, located around 65 miles northeast of Dallas. 

Ward said he was defending himself when he shot and killed Michael Walker, 47, a code enforcement officer, who was taking photos of the piled up junk. 

Walker was unarmed at the time of his death, carrying a cellphone and a camera.

During his 2007 trial and in subsequent appeals of his death sentence, Ward’s attorneys presented evidence of his delusions, paranoia and bipolar disorder. 

In a videotaped statement after his arrest in 2005, Ward said he believed Walker had been spying on him and his father, who has been described as a “hoarder,” for a long time. Ward shot Walker nine times with a .45-caliber pistol.

The Ward family had been cited for housing and zoning code violations numerous times, according to the Associated Press.

"Only time any shots were fired on my behalf was when I was matching force with force," Ward told the AP last month. "I wish it never happened, but it did, and I have to live with what it is."

Some states' Supreme Court justices have previously ruled that anyone with an IQ under 70 should not be executed, but killing would be permissible if the inmate understands that they are about to die and the reasons for their execution. However, Robert Ladd, 57, was killed by lethal injection in Texas in January, despite his lawyers saying he had an IQ of 67.

While the American Civil Liberties Union says there’s “an increasing recognition that severe mental illness is a reason to spare people not from the responsibility of their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death,” state attorneys claimed that Ward’s IQ was as high as 123.

The question of whether Ward’s mental illness distorted his ability to understand reality and what was going on at the time of the crime remained just hours before his execution.

“The issue is whether because of his serious mental illness at the time of the offense, whether that condition means he should not be executed,” Christopher Slobogin, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School, told Newsweek. “Why would you go out and shoot an officer just because he was taking pictures of your home? There has to be some, to use a layman’s term, craziness there.”

Mental impairment is, in general, loosely defined in two ways: either having an intellectual disability, which is a congenital disability found at birth or that developed just after birth, associated with low IQ and an inability to perform basic tasks, or mental illness, which is classically associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Often, symptoms of both types of mental impairment overlap, James Clark, an anti–death penalty campaigner at Amnesty International, told Newsweek.

“It’s actually extremely common. You often see this web of intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses,” he said.

Still, there is “absolutely” continuing stigma against those defined as having mental illness on death row, said Slobogin.

“There’s this concern that mental illness is easily faked. There’s also this intuition which many people have that people with mental illness are much more dangerous than the average individual,” said Slobogin. “There’s much more sympathy towards people with intellectual disability than there is towards people with schizophrenia. People are much more scared and fearful of people with mental illness.”

People also believe that people with mental illness have control over their actions, an assumption that “is largely false,” said Slobogin.

Ward met with his parents earlier Tuesday. They did not attend his execution.

Dick Walker, the father of the man killed by Ward, watched Ward's punishment and said it "put the cap on the mental anguish, the torture of the last 10 1/2 years."

"I'm just glad this part of my life is over with," he said after the execution. "My son will never leave me. There's always going to be a hole in a person's heart. My son was my best friend.

"I can focus on more positive stuff now."

Ward becomes the 5th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 536th overall since Texas resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. He becomes the 18th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Greg Abbott became governor of the state in January 2015.

Ward becomes the 9th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1431st overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977

Two additional executions are scheduled later this month, in Texas and Georgia, and another person is set to be executed in Texas on April 6, according to the Marshall Project’s execution tracker, The Next to Die.

Sources: Newsweek, Associated Press, Rick Halperin, Twitter feed, March 22, 2016


TX executes mentally ill man for murder of officer

"The Walls Unit", Huntsville, where Texas carries out its executions.
"The Walls Unit", Huntsville, where Texas carries out its executions.
From age three, Ward was prescribed psychiatric medicines to address his aggressive and destructive behavior. After spending two and a half months in a psychiatric unit when he was four-years-old, Ward was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to the appeal.

Ward’s mental illness continued to plague him as he began school, the appeal argued. By the time Ward was in second grade, his school had built a “Time Out Box” – a small, padded isolation room – specifically for him.

According to a neuropsychological evaluation in middle school, Ward suffered from “rage episodes,” during which he was unmanageable for an hour or more, had a low frustration toleration and a high level of insecurity and tendency to interpret incoming information as persecutory.

Court documents described Ward’s father, Ralph Ward, as a hoarder who filled the family’s home with piles of junk and an arsenal of guns and ammunitions. Both father and son suffered from shared delusions and paranoia.

The two delusional men believed the city of Commerce was out to get their family and the government was controlled by the “Illuminati.” However, court documents revealed the Ward family had in fact received numerous city code violations for junk piled inside and outside the house.

“Ward’s aggressive and antisocial behavior continued and escalated through adolescence and into adulthood, culminating in him fatally shooting Code Enforcement Officer Michael Walker on June 13, 2005,” Ward’s appeal argued.

His lawyers argued in the appeal that Ward’s mental illness is “so severe, so well-documented, and so deeply present in Mr. Ward’s entire life as to make him constitutionally ineligible for execution.”


Source: The Houstonian, Kevin Fenner, March 22, 2016
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