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Baptist minister arrested in death penalty protest

A Texas Baptist minister was arrested March 22 in a civil disobedience protest of the execution of a man who claimed he was mentally ill when he shot and killed a city code enforcement officer in a dispute over trash in 2005.

Jeff Hood, an advocate for abolishing the death penalty who writes a column for Baptist News Global, found it symbolic that Texas carried out the execution of 33-year-old Adam Kelly Ward during Holy Week.

“We’re at the holiest time of the Christian calendar, and the state basically is re-enacting the passion of Jesus,” Hood said in an interview March 23.

Hood, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who serves on the board of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, described a capital punishment protocol complete with a last meal, a final farewell to loved ones, procession to the execution site, being strapped to a gurney and even piercing the skin during lethal injection.

Hood walked past a police tape barrier for protestors outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. He was confronted by two officers who demanded he turn back or be arrested, and he told them he could not do that.

“Obedience to our faith requires civil disobedience,” Hood said Wednesday, noting that Baptists “come from a long line of resistance to injustice.”

Hood bonded out Wednesday morning after spending a night in the Walker County Jail. He is charged with criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail, $2,000 in fines or both. He is scheduled to appear in court May 19.

While unpleasant, Hood described his night in jail “a very spiritual experience.”

Hood, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, heads up the Abolishing the Death Penalty community in the Alliance of Baptists. He was ordained in 2006 at a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and received standing with the United Church of Christ in 2015.

Hood is spiritual adviser to Will Speer, a death row inmate convicted of a prison murder in 2001. In 2014 Hood staged a 200-mile walk from Livingston, Texas, to Huntsville to protest the death penalty.

“I wish that Baptists would take the death penalty seriously,” Hood said. “I wish Baptists would be willing to give themselves over so lives can be saved.”

Ward was pronounced dead at 6:34 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville. He was convicted of killing Michael “Pee Wee” Walker, 44, a code enforcement officer for the city of Commerce, Texas, after a verbal altercation that began when the official began taking photos of alleged trash hoarding at Ward’s home.

Ward shot Walker nine times with a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. His lawyers claimed he was mentally ill and under paranoid delusions that the officer was going to kill him. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his final appeal about two hours before the execution, upholding a lower court’s decision that Ward’s mental illness did not “rise to the level” of making him ineligible for the death penalty.

Hood said he did not know Ward personally but felt connected to him because he, too, lives with bipolar disorder. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who is intellectually disabled or insane, but the state can execute the mentally ill if they are able to understand what is happening to them and why.

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