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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Texas Man Convicted in Killing of City Worker Set to Die

Adam Ward
Adam Ward
Attorneys for a death row inmate from North Texas who shot to death a city employee who was taking photos of junk piled up at his family's property say their client is delusional and should not be executed because of his mental illness.

Adam Ward insists he was defending himself 11 years ago when he killed code enforcement officer Michael Walker outside the Ward family home in Commerce, about 65 miles northeast of Dallas. Ward, 33, is set for execution Tuesday evening in Huntsville.

"This man charged up and tried to attack me," Ward said recently from a visiting cage outside death row. "Long story short, my case is a case of self-defense, but there are cops there in that town that have tampered with evidence, they have removed evidence, they have added evidence to the scene."

Ward's lead trial attorney and court documents describe him as delusional.

In a videotaped statement to police following his arrest, Ward said he believed Commerce officials long conspired against him and his father, described in court filings as a hoarder who had been in conflict with the city for years. Evidence showed the Ward family had been cited numerous times for violating housing and zoning codes.

Ward's attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, renewing arguments that he is severely mentally ill and contending that his execution would be unconstitutional because of evolving sentiment against executing the mentally ill. The high court has ruled that mentally impaired people may not be executed. State lawyers say courts have nevertheless not exempted mentally ill offenders from the death penalty.

Evidence of Ward's delusions, paranoia and bipolar disorder was presented at his 2007 trial and resurfaced in earlier unsuccessful appeals. The Supreme Court last October refused to review Ward's case.

Witnesses said Walker was taking pictures from the perimeter of the Ward property on June 13, 2005, when they got into an argument. Ward, who had been washing his car, sprayed the city worker with water from a hose.

Dennis Davis, Ward's trial lawyer, says the code officer told Ward that he was calling for back up, and in Ward's mind this meant police were on their way to kill him.

"He had no idea that was the exact wrong thing to say to that person," Davis recalled last week.

Walker pulled out his cellphone, made the call and waited near the back of his truck. Ward went inside the house, emerged with his gun and started firing.

Walker, 44, was shot 9 times.

"Whenever you've been harassed, you take preventative measures if you have to," Ward told The Associated Press from prison, repeating testimony he gave at his trial that he believed Walker was armed. "I was matching force with force, when this man had pulled a gun on me and he pointed it at me and was fixing to shoot me, which is self-defense."

No evidence showed Walker carried a gun and Ward's trial lawyers never raised the issue.

"When I stepped in front of the jury, I said, 'I'm not going to be so callous and look you in the face and say my client didn't kill this man,"' Davis said. "He killed him but you have to understand why. These delusions he has caused the situation."

Jurors rejected defense arguments for a life sentence.

Ward would be the 9th convicted killer in the U.S. to receive lethal injection this year and the 5th in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state.

Source: Associated Press, March 21, 2016

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