Death row inmate’s habeas petition denied by 7th Circuit

The man who brutally raped and murdered a teenager in Spencer County in 2001 will continue to sit on death row after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief.

Ron Ward knocked on the door of the home of 15-year-old Stacy Payne. After she let him in, he assaulted her and injured her so severely she eventually died from her injuries. An officer responding to the scene caught Ward standing in the home and took him into custody.

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death but that verdict was overturned because the Indiana Supreme Court believed Ward was denied the right to a fair trial when his trial was moved. At his second trial in Vanderburgh County, he pleaded guilty to murder and rape. One of his attorneys, Lorinda Youngcourt, was overworked as she was handing other capital cases at the same time. As a result, mitigating evidence wasn’t prepared as intended and the attorneys decided to tell the jury that Ward was a psychopath and shouldn’t be put to death because he is insane.

The jury recommended the death penalty, which was imposed by the special judge. Ward exhausted his state court appeals and turned to the federal court for relief, but the district court denied his petition for habeas corpus.

“Even assuming that Ward’s attorneys performed deficiently when they pounded into the jury’s mind the idea that Ward is a psychopath — not merely someone suffering from severe antisocial personality disorder — we cannot say that the state court’s conclusion that there was no prejudice was unreasonable,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote.

The judges found the Indiana Supreme Court reasonably applied Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).

Wood also noted that Ward was not prejudiced by his counsels’ performance because of the mountain of evidence against him.  

The case is Roy L. Ward v. Ron Neal, superintendent, Indiana State Prison, 16-1001.

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