Virginia Gov Grants Triple Murderer Clemency

Inmate's mental state prompts Gov. Tim Kaine to halt milestone execution.

ByABC News
June 9, 2008, 1:17 PM

June 9, 2008— -- Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine announced this afternoon that he will commute the death sentence of convicted triple murderer Percy Levar Walton because he does not believe Walton meets the Supreme Court criteria of mental competence required for an execution to proceed.

Walton, now 29, was scheduled to become the 100th convict executed in Virginia since the federal reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, a capital punishment tally topped only by the justice system in Texas. He was sentenced to death after he admitted killing an elderly couple and another man in their homes over a 10-day period in 1996. He was 18 years old at the time.

"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," Kaine, a Democrat who personally opposes the death penalty, said in a lengthy statement.

Before commuting the death sentence, Kaine twice had granted temporary reprieves so officials could try to better understand whether Walton was insane, thereby barring him from death penalty consideration, according to the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ford v. Wainright. Any inmate sentenced to die for a crime must understand the punishment and why the punishment is being meted out, the highest court ruled.

In the most recent reprieve, which followed an initial six-month stay, Kaine gave himself 18 months -- until Tuesday night -- to rule on Walton's fate. He said that he believed that Walton was unfit for execution, but that there was a chance that his condition could improve. It didn't.

"Walton differs in fundamental ways from other death row offenders," Kaine said. "He lives in a self-imposed state of isolation that includes virtually no interest in receiving or understanding information. Walton communicates infrequently, almost invariably in response to direct questions, and those responses are minimal in nature."

Opponents of the death penalty had lined up behind Walton's cause. An action notice by Amnesty International describes him as being severely schizophrenic and details Walton's alleged belief that he is Jesus Christ and would come back to life as soon as he was executed. His prison behavior, which includes refusals to bathe, reportedly earned Walton the nickname "Crazy Horse."

"He has nothing in his cell other than a mattress, a pillow and a blanket," Kaine said. "He has no interest in contact with the outside world and has no television, radio, magazines, books or stationery. He has no personal effects of any kind."