PHOENIX — An Arizona man has pleaded guilty to murder charges in the fatal stabbing of his 12-year-old half brother and in a deadly attack weeks later on his cellmate in metro Phoenix’s jail system.
The plea spares Andrew Ward, 30, the death penalty in a case that raised questions about whether the inmate who was killed should have been paired with a dangerous roommate.
Ward, of Phoenix, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder charges in the 2014 deaths of his half brother, Austin Tapio, and cellmate, 33-year-old Douglas Walker. His plea deal calls for consecutive natural life sentence on each murder conviction, meaning he won’t get a chance at parole.
Authorities say Ward called a 911 operator from a convenience store near the family’s Phoenix home in March 2014 to say that he had stabbed his half brother and told the operator, when asked why he stabbed the child, “Honestly I just felt like killing.” Police later found the boy’s body in a bedroom at the home.
Three weeks later, investigators say Ward stabbed Walker’s eyes with golf pencils, tried to cut his throat with a hard plastic card and blocked his breathing passages by jamming a plastic bag containing a peanut butter sandwich down his throat. Ward later told investigators that he heard voices just before the attack telling him, “It’s a death warrant; it’s either him or me,” according to police reports.
In the criminal cases, Ward underwent mental health evaluations to determine if he was psychologically fit to help in his defense. Lawyers on both sides of the murder cases eventually agreed Ward was mentally competent, and judge concluded Ward needed medication to remain psychologically fit.
A wrongful-death lawsuit by Walker’s family raises questions about whether he should have been sharing a cell at Maricopa County’s Lower Buckeye Jail with an inmate who had mental health issues and a propensity for violence.
Walker’s death occurred as then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio was operating jails in metro Phoenix. Arpaio, who was ousted in last year’s election, had been criticized for enacting harsh policies within his jails. Over the years, Arpaio’s office has been accused of not properly evaluating the danger level of inmates.
Marci Kratter, one of Ward’s attorneys, said the case reflects the tragedy of how society treats people with mental health issues. “If Maricopa County was doing what is was supposed to do when they took him into custody and put him in a psychiatric unit, then Mr. Walker wouldn’t have died,” Kratter said.
Parts of the lawsuit were dismissed in a ruling last month, but other legal claims — including a wrongful death allegation — made by Walker’s family can move forward in court.
After Walker’s death, Arpaio said psychiatric experts had evaluated Ward when he was brought to jail and cleared him, despite Ward’s actions in the death of his half brother. “We have about 400 alleged murderers in our jails,” Arpaio said in 2014. “Do you think I have room to give every alleged murderer a private room? No.”
At the time of the deadly jail attack, Walker was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to armed robbery.
The ruling last month said Walker and Ward were both classified as maximum-security inmates because of the nature of their crimes and were put into protective custody at the jail.
Ward is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 29.