Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Psychotic Disorder Does Not Preclude Individual from Being Found Competent to Be Executed

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Psychotic Disorder Does Not Preclude Individual from Being Found Competent to Be Executed

Article excerpt

Percy Levar Walton, who was sentenced to death for killing three neighbors in 1996 in Danville, Virginia, was found competent to be executed by a federal district court in Virginia. Following conflicting evidence on whether Walton was competent to be executed, a forensic psychiatrist was appointed as the court's expert. This expert opined that Walton suffers from a significant psychiatric disorder, most likely schizophrenia, that he has limited cognitive ability, that he is not malingering, that he believes that after his execution he will go to heaven and come back to see his family, that he knows he is in jail for murdering three people, and that he knows he is to be executed.

In making its ruling, the Western District Court of Virginia adopted the test articulated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Powell in his concurring opinion in Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), a standard also adopted by the Fifth and Eighth Circuits. This test requires courts to examine whether the defendant understands (1) he is to be punished by execution and (2) why he is being punished. …

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