Death Watch: A Question of Premeditation
Adam Kelly Ward set to die March 22
Shortly after 10am on June 13, 2005, 22-year-old Adam Kelly Ward was out front of his parents' home in Commerce, Texas, washing a car, when he started arguing with Michael Walker, a code compliance officer sent to take photographs of the home after the Wards had grown noncompliant on an unsheltered storage violation. Ward's father, Ralph, came outside to try to diffuse the situation, but in talking with Walker, realized his son had disappeared. Worried about the gun his bipolar and oft-agitated son kept in his bedroom, Ralph ran off to look for Ward, advising Walker to leave the property. Walker retreated to his truck and called for law enforcement's assistance. Moments later, however, before Ralph could find his son, Ward ran up to Walker's truck and shot the code compliance officer – nine times in all.
In his confession, Ward told authorities that he believed the "city" was perpetually after his family, and that he feared for his own life after he and Walker started arguing. That worked against him, however, as prosecutors were able to point to the initial argument – plus a history of run-ins between the Ward and Walker families and the fact that Walker was unarmed – and charged Ward with shooting the officer in retaliation. Ward's trial attorneys attempted to argue that their client's mental state was too inept to conceive any prepared retaliation, but he was convicted of capital murder in June 2007 and sentenced to death. Habeas efforts filed at the state and federal levels have focused on Ward's lifelong troubles with mental illness, beginning with a bipolar diagnosis at age 4. Ward couldn't stay in school, couldn't keep a job, and in turn could not move out of his parents' deteriorating and often violent house. His habeas attorneys also pointed to a number of problems with the trial in general – like the fact that a friend and collaborator of the prosecution, Dr. Paul Zelhart, was seen having lunch and talking with jurors during the trial.
Ward's efforts for relief failed in federal court in March 2014. His appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals was denied in Jan. 2015. He got word that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case nine months later, and on Nov. 6, he received his execution date. He's currently set for execution at 6pm on Tuesday, March 22. He'll be the fifth Texan executed this year, and the 536th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.