Adam Kelly Ward, whom appeals courts have recognized as mentally ill, is set for execution Tuesday evening in a 2005 shooting death.
If pending appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court are denied, Ward, 33, will be the fifth person killed by Texas in 2016. It will be the ninth execution in the country this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ward has been on death row fewer than nine years, a relatively short term.
On June 13, 2005, Ward shot and killed Michael Walker, a housing and zoning code enforcement officer for the city of Commerce in Hunt County, about 60 miles northeast of Dallas, according to court documents.
The house where Ward, 24 at the time, lived with his father, had been cited numerous times for failing to comply with city codes, the documents state. Walker was taking pictures of the property to record a continuing violation of unsheltered storage while Ward was washing his car in the driveway.
The men began arguing, and Ward sprayed Walker with the hose. Walker called to request help, and Ward went back into the house. Ward’s father told Walker it might be “best if he left the property” but did not tell Walker it was because he believed Ward had a gun in his room, according to court documents.
Ward came back out with a .45-caliber pistol and chased Walker around the city truck and property, shooting at him. Walker was shot nine times, according to the medical examiner.
Ward was charged with intentionally murdering Walker while in the course of committing an obstruction or retaliation, making it a capital murder case. He was convicted and sentenced to death in June 2007.
At his original trial, a psychiatrist said Ward suffered from a psychotic disorder that caused him to “suffer paranoid delusions such that he believes there might be a conspiracy against him and that people might be after him or trying to harm him,” according to court documents.
Appeals courts recognized Ward’s mental illness, describing his aggressiveness as a young child and delusional tendencies by sixth grade. By 15, the federal district court where he filed his appeal said, Ward “interpreted neutral things as a threat or personal attack.”
“Adam Kelly Ward has been afflicted with mental illness his entire life,” the federal district court observed on appeal.
Still, 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.
Ward’s lawyers have filed appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court since the rejection from the state last week, claiming his mental illness should make him ineligible for the death penalty. The state responded that his claims are without merit. The appeal is pending.