Despite arguments that he was ineligible for the death penalty due to his severe mental illness, Tuesday night the state of Texas executed Adam Ward for the 2005 murder of a code enforcement officer.
Ward insists he was defending himself when he fatally shot code enforcement officer Michael Walker, who was taking photos of possible code violations outside the Ward family home in Commerce, about 65 miles north of Dallas.
Ward, 33, was put to death by lethal injection March 22 at the Huntsville Unit, just one street block away from the Sam Houston State University campus. Outside the nation’s most active execution chamber, 15 to 20 protestors stood holding signs opposing capital punishment and held public prayers.
Danielle Allen of Cleveland, TX is also a code enforcement officer and was outside protesting the execution, despite the death of another officer.
“The man’s obviously mentally ill,” Allen said. “He’s delusional. I understand we’re government officers and that makes his murder a Capital offense, but how can we put this boy to death? Why does it have to be the death penalty and not life in prison? What’s more killing going to solve?”
Ward is the ninth person executed this year and the fifth inmate executed in Texas; 535 inmates have been executed in Texas since 1976.
Walker, 44, began taking pictures of the Ward’s family home to document code violations resulting from the piles of junk outside the house which led to an argument between Walker and Ward, then 22.
Ward intervened and told Walker to leave the property. Walker waited nearby after calling for assistance, but he was unaware that Ward had gone inside the house to grab his gun.
Walker died after sustaining nine gunshot wounds from Ward’s .45 caliber pistol. Ward confessed to the murder soon after, stating that he shot Walker because he feared for his life.
Ward’s parents were not present at the execution at the request of Ward who said he did not want his parents there to witness his death, according to Gloria Ruback of Houston, who stood holding an “abolish the death penalty” sign outside the prison.
“He has two parents who love and adore him,” Ruback said, who spoke with Ward’s parents last week. “All this execution is doing – just like with all of the other children Texas has murdered – is creating more victims, more pain and suffering.”
Last week, Ward’s lawyers filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to overturn a March 16 decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal’s denying a stay of execution for Ward.
In the appeal, his lawyers argued that Ward committed a murder because he suffered from “delusions and paranoia fed by his disabling bipolar disorder” dating back to his childhood.
“That’s one of the surest ways to avoid a death penalty is to have your client found not mentally competent or mentally sane and then they can’t execute you according to the Supreme Court,” Criminal Justice professor and capital punishment expert Dennis Longmire, Ph.D., said. “But it’s very, very rare that somebody avoids any punishment in Texas, much less the death penalty as a result of mental incapacity.”
Longmire said southerners tend to believe in the death penalty and make little exceptions, including mental illness.
“In Texas and the south in general, it’s just not part of the culture to recognize that somebody might be so mentally ill that they can’t be held responsible for their actions.” He said. “It’s very, very hard to get people to think about the nature of the crime or offense rather than feel it.”
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.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that mentally ill prisoners, generally defined as those with an IQ below 70, may still be executed if they understand they are about to be put to death and why they face punishment. According to the state’s lawyers, evidence showed Ward’s IQ was nearly 123.
“To qualify as Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity by virtue of mental disease or defect he has to either not understand the wrongfulness of what he’s doing or not be able to control himself even if he knows it’s wrong…that’s the mental illness,” Longmire said.
According to Longmire, the type of people who commit heinous crimes such that of Ward are largely the product of two factors: rage and guns.
“[They’re] in a moment of total rage and situational loss of control… he is enraged and that’s all he’s got,” he said. “So you put together the availability of guns and a general sense of rage and anger, and you’ve got a powder keg.”
According to Longmire, Ward is not the type of person who has the mental capacity to commit premeditated murder.
“In order for someone to able to stop and deliberately say ‘I am going to kill someone’ and do it with pleasure and a sense of purpose, you’ve got to work for the State of Texas and you’ve got to be on the execution team because that’s what they do,” he said.