Texas Executes Man Courts Recognized as Mentally Ill

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the execution.

HUNTSVILLE — Adam Kelly Ward, whom appeals courts had recognized as mentally ill, was executed Tuesday evening for a 2005 shooting death after the U.S. Supreme Court declined his final appeal.

Three friends and a spiritual advisor attended the execution on his behalf, holding hands, silently crying and watching through a glass pane as the 33-year-old Ward slipped out of consciousness. He spoke with his mother and father in the morning, but they did not attend the execution.

Before being injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 6:22 p.m., Ward spoke for about five minutes, thanking his friends and family and wishing peace to the family of his victim, Michael Walker. He also said his execution was an “injustice.”

“This is wrong, what’s happening,” he said. “This is not a capital case; it never was a capital case; I had never intended to do anything.”

 

He continued talking until he lost consciousness, his eyes shutting behind his black-rimmed glasses.

“I know there’s something else I need to say, but I don’t know,” he paused and then spoke his final words: “I feel it.”

Several minutes later, the warden and a doctor entered the room. The doctor checked his vitals, squinted up at the clock and called his time of death at 6:34 p.m.

After the execution, Walker’s father, Dick Walker, said he felt closure. Walker said he was able to forgive his son’s killer about two years ago, but that Ward still received a just punishment.

“He had a very peaceful death, contrary to what my son had,” said Walker, who was the first responder to his son’s fatal shooting almost eleven years ago.

“Appeal after appeal after appeal has weighed on me physically and emotionally,” Walker said. “I got some closure tonight and that’s what I was praying for.”

Walker’s daughter, Marissa, who was 9 when her father was killed, cried when she spoke of him.

“My daddy was the most amazing person I was blessed to know,” she said. “He had the biggest heart.”

 

Marissa and her brother came to Huntsville but did not witness the execution with their grandfather. She said flatly that she did not accept the apology offered by Ward on his deathbed.

Ward became the fifth person killed by Texas in 2016. It was the ninth execution in the country this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ward was on death row fewer than nine years, a relatively short term.

On June 13, 2005, Ward shot and killed 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 filed appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court after 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 were without merit. 

Sign Up for The Brief

Our daily news summary