ACLU of Virginia Asks Governor to Stop Execution of Mentally Ill Death Row Inmate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Psychiatrist Described Percy Walton as “Floridly Psychotic”
RICHMOND, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today asked Governor Tim Kaine to lift the death sentence for Percy Walton, a severely mentally ill man scheduled for lethal injection on December 8. Walton was originally sscheduled to be executed on June 8, but Governor Kaine delayed the execution for six months in order to conduct his own evaluation of Walton’s mental condition.
“There seems to be little doubt that Percy Walton was schizophrenic when he committed the crimes for which he is about to be executed, and that he still is,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The execution of a severely mentally ill person who does not understand his crime or the punishment he faces serves no purpose in a civilized society, except perhaps to make us wonder if we are as civilized as we think we are.”
Walton pled guilty to three killings in 1996, but doubts about his sanity have haunted his case from the beginning. A state psychiatrist found him competent to stand trial, but also noted that he was a danger to himself and others and recommended that he be confined to a psychiatric facility. Without a court hearing to determine competency, Walton was sentenced to death.
Later psychiatric evaluations by several state doctors indisputably concluded that Walton is a schizophrenic -“floridly psychotic,” according to one psychiatrist – who does not understand that his execution means his death. These evaluations conclude that Walton has been psychotic, since at least age 16, two years before he committed the crimes to which he confessed.
The ACLU of Virginia has produced two comprehensive studies – Unequal, Unfair and Irreversible (2000) and Broken Justice (2003) – demonstrating that the death penalty in Virginia is severely flawed. More recently, the ACLU was one of numerous Virginia organizations, including many that do not oppose the death penalty, to endorse Equal Play and Fair Justice (2006), yet another extensive report exposing deficiencies in the administration of Virginia’s system of capital punishment.
“We know that the process by which Percy Walton received a sentence of death was flawed, we know that Percy Walton is severely mentally ill, and we know that the Supreme Court has ruled that a severely mentally ill person cannot be executed,” said Willis. “The math is very simple here, and it adds up to a commutation of Mr. Percy’s sentence.”
The ACLU’s letter to Governor Kaine is below.
December 4, 2006
The Honorable Timothy M. Kaine
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
RE: Commutation of Percy Walton’s Death Sentence
Dear Governor Kaine:
For the second time in six months, I write to ask that you commute Percy Walton’s death sentence to life without parole.
As you know from my previous letter, the ACLU of Virginia has concluded through two comprehensive studies-Unequal, Unfair and Irreversible (2000) and Broken Justice (2003) – that the death penalty in Virginia is severely flawed. More recently, the ACLU was one of numerous Virginia organizations, including many that do not oppose the death penalty, to endorse Equal Play and Fair Justice, yet another extensive report exposing deficiencies in the administration of Virginia’s system of capital punishment.
I am aware that you are conducting your own evaluation of Mr. Walton’s mental status, but from numerous professional reports over many years, there seems to be little doubt that Mr. Walton was severely mentally incapacitated at the time he pled guilty to three murders in 1996. Even the now discredited psychiatric report that found him competent to enter into a plea agreement concluded that he was a danger to himself and others and that he should be placed in a psychiatric hospital.
Subsequent psychiatric examinations have concluded indisputably that Mr. Walton has been actively schizophrenic since he was 16 years-old, two years before the killings of which he is accused. In 1999, state psychiatrist Dr. Patricia General described him as “floridly psychotic.” In 2003, Dr. Ruben Gur concluded that Walton was in a psychotic state and did not realize that his execution would mean the end of his life.
While I understand the decision to commute a death sentence is never easy, there is clear precedent in Virginia for such action based on similar circumstances. That occurred in 1999 when Governor James Gilmore commuted Calvin Swann’s death sentence because he suffered from schizophrenia.
There have also been four recent grants of clemency in other states based on mental illness: Arthur P. Baird II, Indiana 2005; Herbert Welcome, Louisiana 2003; Alexander Williams, Georgia 2002; and Bobbie Shaw, Missouri 1993. These commutations reflect an understanding of the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision, Ford v. Wainwright, which bars the execution persons too mentally ill to understand the reality of, or reason for, their punishment.
If there is one certainty in this case, it is that Mr. Walton does not now have the ability to understand the punishment he is facing. He has at various times stated that he looks forward to eating hamburgers at Burger King after he is executed and that he expects everyone, including himself, relatives and the victims of his crime, to be resurrected following the execution. These are not the observations of a rational person or a visionary, but the delusions of a severely mentally ill person who does not bathe until forced by prison guards, collects salt and pepper packets in his otherwise empty cell, and talks to imaginary visitors. Prison officials, who have observed him for many years now, call him “Crazy Horse.”
On behalf of the ACLU of Virginia board of directors, staff, volunteers and 10,000 members, I ask you to stop the scheduled execution of Percy Walton and commute his sentence to life in prison without parole.
I thank you for your attention to this important matter.
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