By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday delayed for the second time the execution of triple killer Percy L. Walton, a move that keeps the capital murder case at the center of a growing national debate over the execution of the mentally ill.
In June, Kaine delayed Walton's scheduled execution until Friday to allow for an independent evaluation of his mental condition and competence. Based on that evaluation, Kaine (D) said yesterday that Walton's execution would be delayed 18 more 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."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that the execution of the mentally ill violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The court said death-row inmates must be able to comprehend that they are about to be executed and why. But the high court left it up to states to define who is sane or insane.
Walton's case is one of several pending around the country that have frequently been cited as important tests of the limits of the Supreme Court's ruling in Ford v. Wainwright.
Attorneys for Walton, 28, contend that Walton is mentally ill and mentally retarded and that his condition has further deteriorated since he has been on death row. His attorneys at trial never requested a competency hearing. A competency hearing was held three years ago as part of his appeals, and experts disagreed about his mental state.
In a rare move, less than two hours before his scheduled execution in June, Kaine asked three mental health experts to evaluate Walton to determine if he is competent to be executed. A spokesman for the governor said two of the three experts had completed reports on Walton's mental health, and one declined to review his case. The experts' conclusions will not be made public, the spokesman said.
Jennifer Givens, an attorney for Walton, said yesterday that there is little doubt that Walton is mentally ill, adding that she is pleased with the governor's decision.
"As we have predicted all along, the governor has determined that Walton's severe mental illness prevents him from understanding fully the punishment he is about to suffer and why he is to suffer it," Givens said.
The reprieve drew fire, however, from Kaine's political adversaries, who said Kaine, who twice defended death-row inmates as a private attorney, failed to deliver on his campaign promise to uphold the death penalty in Virginia. Kaine's former campaign opponent, former Republican attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, said he was not surprised by the governor's decision.
"It's what we expected and what we said when we were on the campaign trail," Kilgore said. "It's a shame any time one person exerts his will over that of an unbiased jury and not only that, judges and appellate judges."
Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) raised similar concerns in a statement yesterday, saying he "respects" Kaine's authority but thinks Walton should be executed. McDonnell said he is "concerned about the impact today's action could have on our justice system."
Since he took office, Kaine has allowed four executions to go forward.
Walton pleaded guilty in 1997 to killing Jessie and Elizabeth Kendrick, an elderly Danville couple, and his neighbor Archie Moore. Walton's current attorneys and his family maintain that he showed signs of the early onset of schizophrenia before his conviction.
Yesterday's decision marked the third time in three years that the execution of Walton, 28, has been at least temporarily halted. In 2003, a federal judge delayed Walton's execution three days to hear testimony about his mental state. This June 8, after ordering an inquiry into his mental state, Kaine said there "is more than a minimal chance that Walton no longer knows why he is to be executed or is even aware of the punishment he is about to receive."
Nicknamed "Crazy Horse" by death-row guards for his bizarre behavior, Walton often refuses to shower and rarely speaks coherently, his attorneys say. Characterized as "floridly psychotic" by a psychiatrist, Walton has said that he will go to Burger King, that he will drive a motorcycle after his execution and that he believes his death will resurrect his three victims and his late grandfather, his attorneys said.
In March, Walton's case narrowly split the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which ruled 7 to 6 that his execution could go forward, saying that questions about whether Walton understood that his "death means the end of his physical life" bordered on the "metaphysical."
Last week, a North Carolina judge issued a 60-day stay in the case of Guy T. LeGrande, a convicted killer who wore a Superman T-shirt and sent letters to a judge signed "Lucifer" when he defended himself at his murder trial.