The (Democratic) governor of our state, Timothy Kaine, today announced that he has delayed for a further 18 months the execution of Mr. Percy Walton, a 28-year-old African-American man. This delay is intended to give the state time to determine whether Walton is mentally fit to be executed.
As Frank Green, the excellent staff writer of the Richmond Times-Dispatch who follows death-penalty affairs in the state, wrote:
- Kaine said, “I am compelled to conclude that Walton is severely mentally impaired and meets the Supreme Court’s definition of mental incompetence.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a person is not competent to be executed if he is unaware of the punishment about to be suffered and why.
Kaine said it was possible, though unlikely, that Walton’s mental impairment is not permanent. So, he said, a commutation of Walton’s sentence was not yet appropriate. He then delayed Walton’s execution until June 10, 2008, to permit fur- ther observation.
Walton is a man who by his own admission has done some very bad things. In 1997, Walton pled guilty to the 1996 murders of his neighbors Jessie Kendrick, 80, Elizabeth Kendrick, 81, and Archie D. Moore Jr., 33.
I find the idea that a state– a state, moreover, that claims to be acting in my name– would set out deliberately to kill one of its citizens to be horrifying, and barbaric. But even within the paradigm of the death penalty being “thinkable”, the Walton case raises some extremely perplexing issues. To be executed, the US Supreme Court has ruled, a person has to be mentally competent enough to understand what is about to happen to him?? How ghoulish is that?
And then, there is a whole series of questions about the responsibilities of mental-health professionals under these circumstances. Should it be the responsibility of a mental-health professional to improve Mr. Walton’s meantal-health status condition sufficiently that he then becomes “fit” to be executed?
According to Frank Green’s article, Walton has been under the care of mental health personnel employed by the Virginia Department of Corrections, and one of Walton’s lawyers has explained that it is these DOC personnel– and not Walton’s lawyers– who have determined the treatment that he should receive.
I wonder if it is mandatory under the law that a prisoner under these circumstances should follow any treatment course prescribed. (What if the prisoner is a Christian Scientist or has other religious-based objections to the procedures of physical medicine?) Generally, when the state forces a person with mental disabilities to follow a certain course of treatment this is justified only on the basis that it is to prevent the person causing harm to her/himself or others… But in this case, any mandating of treatment would be “justified” on the basis that the person should be made “fit” enough to have the state cause fatal harm to him.
The whole business is, of course, unspeakably tragic. If Virginia succeeds in killing Percy Walton, this won’t bring his victims back to life.
If these kind of questions interest you, go read the whole of Frank Green’s piece. You’ll find that the (Republican) Attorney-General of the state expresses impatience with the delays and just wants Kaine to get on with the execution. (I should note, though, that support for the death penalty here in Virginia does not break down along straight party lines. We’ve had at least one prominent Republican state legislator who came out very strongly against the death penalty. And Kaine, though he’s a Catholic, is not a complete opponent of the death penalty, at all…)
At the end of Green’s article is this appeal from a daughter of the elderly couple killed by Walton, that his death sentence simply be commuted– i.e., changed to a lengthy term of imprisonment– rather than having its ‘execution’ endlessly delayed:
- Barbara Case, of Brandon, Miss., daughter of the couple slain by Walton, said last night, “We don’t need another 18 months. It’s been 10 years.”
“How is he going to get any better? Why didn’t he just commute his sentence,” she asked. Some relatives of the Kendricks have said in the past that they believe Walton should be executed.