MARION, Ark. — A 15-year-old boy was sentenced Friday to die by poison injection after being convicted of capital murder in the stabbing deaths of two elderly sisters and their great-grandnephew.
Ronald Ward of West Memphis, Ark., who has been in the seventh grade for three years and who will be 16 in October, was sentenced by Circuit Judge David Burnett of Osceola. The boy sat bolt upright, then slumped and began sobbing as the sentence was read.
The jury deliberated for about two hours before finding Ward guilty late Thursday. Jurors then deliberated for 35 minutes and recommended the death penalty, which the state had sought. The only other penalty allowed by Arkansas law for a capital murder conviction is life in prison without parole.
Ward was convicted of killing Lois Townsend Jarvis, 76; Audrey Townsend, 72, and Chris Simmons, 12, his classmate. Their bodies were found in a bedroom of the sisters' home in West Memphis on April 12. An autopsy showed that Townsend had been raped.
Defense attorney Samuel Turner Jr. of West Memphis said he was "surprised at the hurry with which this jury convicted this 15-year-old boy." He said he thought that the jury had not given the sentence the deliberation it deserved.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Joe Rogers said: "It was a very difficult case. It's difficult to have to ask a jury to impose the death penalty, given the age of the defendant."
At the sentencing, Ward said: "I did not kill those people. I'm not guilty of this. I did not do it."
Burnett set Ward's execution for April 12, 1986, one year to the day after the bodies were found. The sentence will be appealed automatically.
Ward testified Thursday that two men from West Memphis had forced him to break into the home with them. He said one of the men had raped him and then forced him to rape one of the women. He said he escaped and did not see the killings.