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Death row inmate sues Indiana, seeking to halt executions

Posted: 4:27 PM, Jan 16, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-16 16:32:18-05
Death Chamber at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A man sentenced to death for the 2001 rape and murder of a 15-year-old southern Indiana girl is suing the state, seeking to stop it from performing executions.

The lawsuit filed this month in LaPorte County on behalf of Roy Lee Ward seeks an injunction halting capital punishment and a court ruling that the death penalty violates Indiana's constitution.

Ward, 46, is on death row at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. He was sentenced to death in 2007 for the July 2001 rape and murder of Stacy Payne. Authorities said Ward stabbed her to death in her family's home near Dale, about 30 miles east of Evansville.

Ward's complaint argues that "Indiana's administration of capital punishment is arbitrary and capricious, without legitimate penological end, offensive to evolving standards of decency" and violates sections of the state constitution.

It states that last year, Washington state's Supreme Court "unanimously declared the use of capital punishment to be unconstitutional under its state constitution." Washington, where eight people are on death row, had not carried out an execution since 2010, it adds.

Indiana has similarly not carried out an execution since 2009, and the state has nine death row inmates — seven of whom, including Ward, are under an active sentence of death, according to the suit.

Fort Wayne attorney David Frank, who filed the suit on Ward's behalf, contends that Indiana's only rationale for the death penalty is "vindictiveness and vengeance," which he said violates Section 18 of the state constitution.

"Certainly, we acknowledge all of them were convicted of very serious offenses, but I think the average and reasonable person could ask the state, 'Why them?'" Frank told The Indiana Lawyer of Indiana's death row inmates. "When the state offers no legitimate explanation for its use, it's time to get rid of it."

If the death sentence were ruled unconstitutional, death sentences would be commuted to life in prison without parole.

The suit names as defendants Gov. Eric Holcomb and Robert Carter, the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction.

Messages seeking comment were left Wednesday for the Indiana's attorney general's office, which defends the state's laws against legal challenges.

Ward had previously sued Indiana after legislators announced that the state's next lethal injection drug would be Brevital. That suit argued that Indiana correction officials violated procedures in choosing that drug, but in February 2018 the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling tossing out that suit.

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