Monday, May 12, 2008

Execution Date Set for Percy Walton

The Commonwealth of Virginia has set an execution date of June 10, 2008 for Percy Levar Walton, a severely mentally ill man who believes that he will come back to life after the execution and whose intellectual functioning appears to be significantly impaired. In order to be deemed competent to be executed, an inmate must understand the reality of - and the reason for - his or her punishment.

Walton faced imminent execution in April 2006, but received a six-month reprieve from Virginia Governor Tim Kaine just hours before it was set to take place. Gov. Kaine ordered and authorized an independent and nonjudicial examination of Walton’s mental state. On December 4, 2006, Gov. Kaine ordered a second reprieve - this time for 18 months, until June 10, 2008. "I am compelled to conclude that Walton is severely mentally impaired and meets the Supreme Court's definition of mental incompetence," Kaine said in a statement. "At the same time, it is within the realm of possibility -- though unlikely -- that Walton's mental impairment is not permanent. Accordingly, a commutation of his sentence is not appropriate at this time.”

There are no indications that Percy Levar Walton's mental status has changed in the last two years.

Here are excerpts from Amnesty International's Urgent Action:

"In 1999, three mental health experts concluded that Levar Walton suffers from severe schizophrenia and was probably suffering from this mental illness at the time of the crime. Walton, who was 18 years and one month old at the time of the murders, had displayed signs of emerging mental illness since the age of 16. He manifested bizarre beliefs and inappropriate behavior after his arrest, in pre-trial custody, and during the trial. In telephone calls from the jail to his family, he insisted that his mother was his sister, and referred to his father as his brother, his grandfather as his father and his grandmother as his mother. He said that he had discovered that he had two brothers, when he had none. He told his mother that he was the Queen Bee, and his grandmother that he was Superman. He told relatives that he was Jesus Christ, and that he was a millionaire. He insisted that he would come back to life as soon as he was executed, and that he would retrieve and bring back alive his grandfather who had recently died. In a 1999 affidavit, his lawyer recalled how Levar Walton 'did not meaningfully assist us in preparing a defense - Often times it was extremely difficult to communicate with Mr. Walton, and there were occasions where we could not tell whether he understood what we were saying to him. Other times it was clear from Mr. Walton's questions and responses to my questions that Mr. Walton understood little of what I was telling him.' The lawyer recalled that 'we were unable to convince Mr. Walton that he would not come back to life' if he was executed.

The defense asked for a mental health expert, and the trial judge appointed a psychologist. After a series of meetings with Levar Walton, the psychologist developed serious doubts about his competence to stand trial, finding that Walton's articulation of his thoughts was incomprehensible. He was particularly troubled by Levar Walton's notion that execution did not result in permanent death. The psychologist recommended that Walton be placed in a secure psychiatric hospital. This was rejected by the trial judge.

At first Levar Walton said that he wanted to plead guilty. Then in September 1997 he told his lawyer that he wanted to plead not guilty and have a jury trial because he was innocent. Days later, he reverted to admitting guilt. At end of that month, asked whether he would plead guilty or not guilty, he refused to speak, but responded by writing the word 'chair' on a piece of paper. He told his lawyer that he wanted to be executed in order 'to come back to life so he could be with his honeys.' In court in October 1997, he pleaded guilty to the murders, the judge accepted the plea and, after a sentencing phase at which no mental health evidence was presented, sentenced him to death. At the sentencing trial, Walton's conduct was extremely prejudicial. He repeatedly burst out laughing and smiled inappropriately. The prosecutor argued that Walton's outbursts indicated a 'sadistic, ruthless, cold-blooded murderer who has no conscience, no remorse and no right to live in a civilized society.'

Levar Walton's mental illness has worsened on death row - prison records have described an inmate who is 'floridly psychotic.' In a March 2006 ruling on his case, six judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted the 'substantial evidence that Percy Levar Walton does not understand that his execution will mean his death, defined as the end of his physical life.' They further noted that 'there is no dispute that since his sentencing, Walton has fallen deeper and deeper into mental illness.' According to Levar Walton's current lawyer, who has visited him regularly, Walton is unable to care for himself, such as in matters of basic personal hygiene. She has no doubt that he is severely mentally impaired.

There is evidence that in addition to his mental illness, Levar Walton functions, at best, at borderline mental retardation level and has the mental age of a young child. If the crimes for which he was sentenced to death had been committed five weeks earlier, Levar Walton would have been 17 years old and his execution would be illegal under U.S. and international law."

Percy Walton was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murders of an elderly white couple, Elizabeth and Jesse Hendrick, aged 81 and 80, and a 33-year-old black man, Archie Moore, in the town of Danville in November 1996. According to Viriginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Walton’s prison cell is devoid of any personal affects, except for a large pile of salt, pepper and sugar packets; he has no form of entertainment nor does he seek any. He makes no phone calls; he recives no visits from family or friends. Prison guards refer to Walton as “Horse”, short for “Crazy Horse.”

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