15-Year-Old Death Row Inmate Says He's 'Still Scared' of DyingDAVID SPEER , Associated Press
Oct. 11, 1985 3:04 AM ET
CUMMINS UNIT, ARK. CUMMINS UNIT, Ark. (AP) _ Ronald Ward, at 15 the youngest death row inmate in the United States, said he is coming to grips with his fear of dying for the slayings of two elderly women and a boy, but admitted: ''I'm still scared.''
Ward maintained at a prison news conference Thursday that he was innocent and said he would tell the victims' families: ''I'm sorry that it happened to their people, but I did not kill their folks. I did not do it.''
Convicted Sept. 20 in Crittenden County Circuit Court of murder, Ward is sentenced to die April 12 by injection.
Appeal of a capital murder conviction to the Arkansas Supreme Court is automatic and defense lawyer Joseph Brown Jr. said the appeals process could take up to 10 years.
Ward was found guilty of fatally stabbing sisters Lois Townsend Jarvis, 76, and Audrey Townsend, 72, both of West Memphis, and their great-grandnephew, Chris Simmons, 12, on April 12.
Figures from the Capital Punishment Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City show that Ward, who turns 16 this month, is the youngest person held on death row in the United States.
Four of the nation's 1,590 death row inmates were 15 when they committed their crimes, but the others are older than Ward now, said Henry Schwarzschild, project director.
Ward shares a 20- by 14-foot cell with three other inmates.
He does not attend classes but spends most of his time in his cell, which is decorated with pictures of houses, flowers and people, he said.
Ward said he was afraid but that his fear of dying and fear of being in prison had lessened since he entered prison.
''It's a little better,'' he said. ''I'm still scared.''
Thirty-five people under a death sentence in the United States were less than 18 when they committed their crime, Schwarzschild said. ''We know of 271 executed for crimes committed under age 18 between 1642 and 1985.''
James Arcene was executed by federal officials in Arkansas on June 26, 1885, for a crime he committed when he was 10 years old, he said.
Ward is not the first 15-year-old to be placed on death row at Cummins. Joe Kagebein was 15 when he was condemned in 1971 for murder, but in a retrial he was convicted of second-degree murder and released from prison in 1977.
The bodies of the sisters and the boy, a classmate of Ward's, were found in a bedroom of the women's home. Authorities suspected a burglary there after a purse belonging to one of the women was found in a ditch.
An autopsy showed that Ms. Townsend had been raped and officers found a butcher knife in a bathroom sink.
A few days later, police picked up Ward at West Junior High School in West Memphis, where he was enrolled in the seventh grade for the third time.
Ward, who was left with his grandparents when he was 3 months old, said his parents knew he had been sentenced to die.
''They know,'' he said. ''I guess they care. My father tried to come and see me while I was in the Crittenden County Jail, but they wouldn't let him.''
Ward, who is black, said he did not think he got a fair trial. ''When they gave me an all-white jury, right then I said, 'This is not going to be a fair trial.'''