Texas Man Executed Despite Evidence of Mental Impairment

A Texas man was executed on Tuesday, March 22, despite his claim of mental illness.

Adam Kelly Ward had been on death row since 2007, convicted of shooting and killing a city worker over a dispute regarding piles of trash outside of his house in Commerce, Texas. Ward claimed he was defending himself, although code enforcement officer Michael Walker was unarmed while taking photos outside the home.

During his trial, Ward’s defense attorneys presented evidence of severe mental illness, arguing that he suffered from delusions, paranoia, and bipolar disorder. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, rejected Ward’s appeal last week. He was executed by lethal injection on Tuesday night.

After his arrest in 2005, Ward claimed in a videotaped statement that Walker had been spying on him and his father for a long time. The Ward family had been cited for housing and zoning code violations several times prior to the incident.

“Only time any shots were fired on my behalf was when I was matching force with force,” Ward told the Associated Press. “I wish it never happened, but it did, and I have to live with what it is.”

Exceptions have been made for inmates on death row with mental illness or an IQ under 70. The American Civil Liberties Union states that there is “an increasing recognition that severe mental illness is a reason to spare people not from the responsibility of their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death.” However, it is often ruled that if an inmate understands that he is about to die and the reasons for such punishment, then he is competent enough to receive that punishment.

Mental impairment can present itself in two different ways: intellectual disability or mental illness. Intellectual disability primarily refers to a person’s IQ and inability to perform basic tasks. The person may not understand his actions simply because the brain isn’t fully developed. Mental illness, on the other hand, disrupts a person’s thinking, mood, and ability to relate to others. Those who are mentally ill are often out of touch with reality and therefore do not understand right from wrong.

State attorneys claim that Ward had an IQ of up to 123, and was therefore fully capable of understanding his actions and his punishment. Professor Christopher Slobogin of Vanderbilt Law School has a different theory.

“Why would you go out and shoot an officer just because he was taking pictures of your home? There has to be some, to use a layman’s term, craziness there,” he says. Because mental illness cannot be determined by IQ, some believe that Ward was, in fact, mentally impaired, and that his execution was unethical.

There are no records indicating that Ward was undergoing treatment for mental illness. Estimates project that the nation’s overall spending on mental health is approximately $113 billion, or 5.6% of total medical costs, annually. However, mental illness is not always easy to identify, and often goes undiagnosed — and therefore untreated.

Ward became the ninth person to be executed in the U.S. in 2016.

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