- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

On two separate occasions, both a federal district court and appellate court have ruled Percy Walton mentally competent to be executed for the murder of three persons in 1996. But Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine on Monday granted Walton a six-month reprieve, four days before his scheduled execution, because he is still not convinced Walton is mentally competent. This, by the way, is the second time Mr. Kaine has delayed Walton’s execution and for the same reason. The last time was just hours before Walton was to be executed in June.

We call the governor’s attention to the substantial evidence attesting to Walton’s mental capability. Shortly after he was indicted for the crimes to which he would plead guilty, a Virginia state court appointed a psychiatrist to assess his mental condition. The psychiatrist determined that Walton was mentally fit to stand trial, able to understand the charges against him and that if convicted could be executed. Those findings were agreed to by a second court-appointed psychiatrist. It was because of these psychiatrists’ opinions that Walton’s first round of appeals were denied by both a federal district court and an appellate court.

In 2004, on Walton’s second round of appeals, however, the district court agreed to hear testimony on Walton’s claim that he is mentally incompetent as well as mentally retarded. The court heard testimony from three psychiatrists for the defense, two of whom concluded that Walton was mentally incompetent, and a third who believed that while Walton was “psychotic” he nevertheless understood that he was to be executed for murder.

The prosecution presented a rehabilitation counselor at the corrections center where Walton was to be executed and a fourth psychiatrist who had known Walton since 1999. Both agreed that he was mentally competent. But to resolve the divergent testimony, the court brought in a court-appointed psychiatrist to examine Walton. This psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Mills, who is personally opposed to the death penalty, judged Walton to be of low intelligence and likely suffering from schizophrenia. However, Dr. Mills said that a person suffering from schizophrenia can be “competent to stand trial, competent to make a will, [and] competent to be executed.” Dr. Mills concluded that he “clearly believes” that Walton understands why he is in prison and why he will be executed.

The district court took the sum of this evidence and ruled that “Walton both understands that he is to be executed and that his execution is punishment for his conviction for murder.” Last March, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals again upheld the lower court’s decision.

Mr. Kaine is personally opposed to capital punishment, but in his campaign for governor he told Virginia voters that he would enforce the penalty “because it’s the law.” Taking a life, even when the state is taking the life, is a profound and solemn occasion, never a cause for celebration, and never easy for a governor or the people in whose name the penalty is carried out. But justice for the three persons Walton brutally murdered, and for their families, need not be further delayed.

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