*Update* The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected Adam Ward’s appeal for a stay of execution based on evidence of his severe mental illness.
Tonight, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Adam Ward for killing Commerce Code Enforcement Officer Michael “Pee Wee” Walker in 2005 in Hunt County. Ward was 22 years old at the time of the crime. His attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution based on evidence of his mental illness, including paranoid delusions. From the Texas Tribune:
… state and federal courts have rejected Ward’s appeals, saying his mental illness did not “rise to the level” of making him ineligible for the death penalty, according to a concurring opinion by Judge Elsa Alcala issued last Monday, when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Ward’s last petition with the state.
“As is the case with intellectual disability, the preferred course would be for legislatures rather than courts to set standards defining the level at which a mental illness is so severe that it should result in a defendant being categorically exempt from the death penalty,” Alcala said.
According to Texas Department of Criminal Justice, around 30 percent of those incarcerated in Texas prison or jails have been clients of the state’s public mental health system.
Mental illness can impact a defendant’s ability to communicate effectively with his/her attorney, participate in legal proceedings, make rational decisions, or behave appropriately in a courtroom. It also can impact his/her ability to assist with appeals.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the death penalty is unconstitutional for people with intellectual disabilities (Atkins v. Virginia). It has not excluded offenders with severe mental illness from the death penalty.
The American Bar Association, The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Alliance on Mental illness have adopted a recommendation calling for a prohibition on the death penalty for those with severe mental disorders or disabilities. Numerous mental health organizations in Texas also have condemned the execution of offenders with severe mental illness.
Texas accounts for four of the eight executions that have taken place in the United States to date in 2016. At least nine other individuals currently have execution dates.