A man whose death sentence and murder and rape convictions previously were reversed on appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court remains condemned after the justices on Thursday affirmed a trial court’s denial of post-conviction relief.
Roy Lee Ward appealed the denial of post-conviction relief of his death sentence after he pleaded guilty to murder and rape in his second trial for the 2001 mutilation killing of 15-year-old Stacy Payne. The state’s high court previously reversed his first conviction due to prejudicial publicity.
The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed denial of PCR on a direct appeal from Spencer Circuit Special Judge Robert Pigman. Ward appealed on several grounds. He claimed trial counsel were ineffective in presenting mitigating factors, challenging aspects of the state’s case, and assisting at appeal; and that Indiana’s death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.
The unanimous 52-page ruling in Roy Lee Ward v. State of Indiana, 74S00-0907-PD-320, held that mitigating factors such as Ward’s mental health and upbringing were properly heard in post-conviction relief, and in some cases Ward raised claims in PCR that were unknown at the time of his trial.
“Our review of the record does not lead us to an opposite conclusion than that reached by the PC court, that Ward’s trial counsel did not perform deficiently in their mitigation investigation,” Justice Frank Sullivan wrote. “The record largely corroborates the PC court’s findings of fact and ultimately supports its conclusions of law.”
The opinion detailed the grisly nature of Ward’s crime and found that any mitigating factors that had not been presented at sentencing would have been unlikely to persuade jurors to impose a sentence of life without parole.
“The dominant features of Ward’s makeup as it relates to this case are his antisocial personality and his total lack of remorse,” Sullivan wrote. “ … We found the evidence of torture and mutilation to be overwhelming.”
The justices also rejected claims by Ward that Indiana’s death penalty was unconstitutional and that evidence of fewer executions and capital opinions weighed in favor of a sentence of life without parole.
“We do not find the reduction in the rate of death sentences imposed since 1993 to result from any constitutional infirmity in our death penalty statute,” the justices found, and used Ward’s claims of declining frequency to argue in favor of its constitutionality.
“Ward reported that 94 individuals had been sentenced to death in Indiana since 1977,” the ruling says. “Of those, 22 had been executed, 12 were currently on death row, and 4 had died of other causes. We have reviewed the remaining 56 cases and found that in 44, the individuals received relief from their death sentences on direct appeal or in state post-conviction proceedings.
“We believe this record is indicative of a death penalty system that provides the appellate review required by the Constitution.”