- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

RICHMOND — From their cells on Virginia’s death row, the other inmates can hear Percy L. Walton laughing.

His chuckles, the inmates say, come from nowhere and are often mixed with shouts and incoherent babbling. He talks back to voices that only he can hear. He once told a psychiatrist that he plans to go to Burger King after he is executed.

On Friday, Walton is scheduled to die. And he has no idea, his attorneys say.

Walton, 28, came within two hours of death June 8 when Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, delayed the execution for six months to allow for new evaluations of Walton’s mental condition and competence. Mr. Kaine is reviewing the results of those evaluations as he considers Walton’s request for clemency.

Walton pleaded guilty in 1997 to the murders of Jessie and Elizabeth Kendrick, a couple in their 80s, and Archie Moore, 33. The Danville residents were robbed and shot in the head. Mr. Moore’s body was found stuffed in a closet, his corpse doused in cologne.

The debate over Walton’s mental state has raged for nearly a decade. No competency hearing was held before he was sentenced to death, and mental evaluations have yielded conflicting results.

In its Ford v. Wainwright decision in 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court found that executions of the insane are unconstitutional. In a concurring opinion, Justice Lewis Powell concluded that “the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution only of those who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it.”

Because of that, much of the debate surrounding Walton has focused on whether he understands that to be executed would mean the physical end of his life. Several mental-health specialists who have evaluated Walton have given differing opinions, and Walton has given conflicting answers.

“Percy was and remains deeply schizophrenic and mentally retarded,” said his attorney, Nash Bilisoly. “He still has no concept as to the fact that he’s going to die or why and, in our view, it makes no sense to execute someone in that condition.”

But the man who prosecuted the case thinks otherwise.

“No issue of insanity was raised at trial,” Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney William Fuller said. “This is all something that’s allegedly materialized later. I suspect that if you and I had been on death row for 10 years in the type of setup there, that we’d have some problems, too.”

At Walton’s trial, Mr. Fuller called Walton “a sadistic, ruthless and cold-blooded murderer who has no conscience.”

Walton was three days from execution in 2003 when a judge granted a stay so specialists could explore his mental state. In subsequent hearings, a prison guard testified that Walton refused to shower, complaining about a man in a white suit sitting on a gray box in his cell. One prison psychiatrist testified that Walton was “floridly psychotic.”

Three mental-health professionals who evaluated Walton after his conviction conducted the recent evaluations ordered by Mr. Kaine. They include a specialist approved by the defense, one selected by the prosecution and a third chosen by a federal judge. In their earlier evaluations, they each presented conflicting conclusions on whether Walton understood the concept of death.

Walton has said that after he is executed, he will go to Burger King, take a trip to the shopping mall and hopefully ride a motorcycle, among other things. He told one psychiatrist that an execution means “sleep for rest of life … until someone comes to see you.” More recently, Walton has been unable to offer any coherent response to questions about his execution, his attorney says.

But Walton also once said his execution would be “an end” or “the end,” and said before his trial that the “chair is for killers,” indicating to some that he may understand his punishment.

Inmate William Van Poyck, who has been on death row with Walton for seven years, said Walton is unable to engage in meaningful conversation, responding to most questions with a monotone “yeah” or “no.”

“I’ve served approximately 34 years in adult prisons, which is to say I’ve got a lot of experience being around truly insane men, and Percy ranks right at the top of crazy guys I’ve encountered,” wrote Van Poyck, a Florida death row inmate being held in Virginia.

The Kendricks’ daughter, Barbara Case, said she is unsure about Walton’s current mental state, although she thinks he was sane when he committed the murders.

“He was in his right mind,” said Mrs. Case, 68, of Brandon, Miss. “He was just mean. I’ve had people tell me they really believe he’s unbalanced, and he may be since he’s been locked up for nine years now.”

Mrs. Case said she has forgiven Walton for killing her parents, whom she describes as a loving, hardworking couple who cared deeply for their family and community.

She remains ambivalent about his fate. If he is executed, she says, she hopes he has repented.

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