- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

RICHMOND | Gov. Tim Kaine on Monday commuted the sentence of a death-row inmate with a history of mental issues.

Percy Walton, 29, was sent to death row for robbing and killing three neighbors in Danville in 1996. He was set to die at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, commuted Walton’s sentence to life in prison.

Walton’s attorneys claim he suffers from schizophrenia and that he doesn’t understand that his execution would mean the end of his life.

A federal court stepped in three days before Walton’s scheduled execution in 2003 to allow time to determine whether Walton understood he was going to die and why. Mr. Kaine halted Walton’s execution twice in 2006 for further evaluation of his mental condition.

“Given the extended period of time over which Walton has exhibited this lack of mental competence, I must conclude that a commutation of his sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole is now the only constitutionally appropriate course of action,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Kaine, a Roman Catholic, has personal, faith-based objections to the death penalty but has allowed five executions to proceed since he became governor in 2006, including one last month.

Walton was the first inmate Mr. Kaine has spared the death penalty.

Nash Bilisoly, Walton’s attorney, was pleased with the governor’s decision but said Walton wouldn’t know the difference.

“Percy Walton will not know that it is Monday, much less that his sentence has been commuted,” he said.

Mr. Bilisoly said he did not know where Walton would end up but hoped he would get treatment.

“I think it’s apparent that he ought to be somewhere where he can get some mental health treatment,” Mr. Bilisoly said.

Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican, was reviewing the governor’s statement and would have a response later Monday, spokesman David Clementson said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute the insane or those with an IQ less than 70, established by the age of 18, who lack basic adaptive skills.

No competency hearing was held before Walton was sentenced to death, and various mental evaluations have yielded conflicting results.

Walton scored 90 and 77 on intelligence tests taken when he was 17 and 18, respectively. After he was sentenced to death, Walton’s scores declined.

Walton has said that after he is put to death he plans to go to Burger King and maybe ride a motorcycle. But he also has referred to execution as “the end” and said before his trial that the “chair is for killers.”

Walton pleaded guilty in 1997 to the murders of Jessie and Elizabeth Kendrick, a couple in their 80s, and 33-year-old Archie Moore, an aviation instructor at a nearby college.

The Kendricks’ bodies were found Nov. 26, 1996 in their town house, both shot in the head from close range. Mr. Kendrick’s hands were clenched together above his head as if either praying or begging for Walton to spare their lives.

Mr. Moore’s body was found in a closet of his apartment two days later. He had been shot above the left eye, a plastic bag placed over his head and his body doused in cologne.

Mr. Kaine said he remained mindful of the victims’ families in reaching his decision.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of these honorable people,” he said.

Irene Jurscaga, 87, said she was disappointed her sister’s killer would not be put to death.

“It’s just another person that our tax dollars have to feed,” she said. “He isn’t deserving to be alive, someone who created such a heinous crime. He didn’t give my sister and brother-in-law a chance. They begged for their lives.”

Walton would have become the 100th person executed in Virginia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Only Texas, with 405, has executed more.

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