Lawsuits continue to pile up challenging the eight executions scheduled in April by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The latest was filed by federal public defenders in Lincoln County Circuit Court . It argues that Bruce Ward, one of the condemned, has severe mental illness and is incompetent to be executed. Federal case law requires mental competency.
Said a news release on the lawsuit:
William Logan, M.D., a forensic psychiatrist and expert in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, has examined Mr. Ward and concluded that he is incompetent to be executed. Dr. Logan’s reporting has documented Mr. Ward’s bizarre and delusional beliefs, including that he is the target of a multi-state conspiracy and that he will not be executed, but will be allowed to walk out of prison to great riches and acclaim, including having a Hollywood movie made about secret information he possesses. Mr. Ward cites direct, personal encounters with God and visions of his deceased father reassuring him he will not be executed.
Mr. Ward’s severe schizophrenia and break with reality render him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: he has no rational understanding of the punishment he is about to suffer on April 17 or the reason why he is to suffer it.
The lawsuit argues further that Arkansas gives to the Correction Department director who oversees executions the discretion to determine competency, rather than a court. This is unconstitutional, the lawsuit argues. It says Wendy Kelley, the department director, had made the determination without consulting a medical professional and that the prison staff had “systematically neglected” Ward’s condition.
The lawsuit also contests the conditions of Ward’s imprisonment. Again from the release:
In today’s filing, attorneys argue that imprisoning Mr. Ward in solitary confinement for nearly three decades has caused their client to mentally deteriorate and constituted torture. Since 1990, Mr. Ward has been locked down for 23 hours per day, alone, in a cell about half the size of a parking space. He is permitted, for one hour per day, to use a dog run-style outdoor area of about the same size, also without human contact. Dr. Craig Haney, an expert on the psychological effects of prison conditions, has provided his expert opinion that Arkansas’s Supermax causes significant psychological damage to prisoners and is even more damaging for prisoners with pre-existing mental illness, like Mr. Ward. In addition to housing Mr. Ward in complete and utter isolation, the Department of Correction refused to offer him any mental health care, adhering to a policy of withholding mental health services for Mr. Ward (and other mentally ill prisoners), causing his condition to seriously worsen over the decades.
Ward was convicted of the 1989 slaying of Rebecca Doss, 18, a convenience store clerk working on overnight shift. A passing police officer who could not see a clerk inside stopped to check the store and stopped Ward after seeing him walk away from restrooms.