A 21-year-old gang member convicted of killing a Lynwood teen-ager in 1988 was sentenced to death Friday in a quiet, nearly empty Compton courtroom, making him the youngest of the 299 inmates on California's Death Row.
Carmen Lee Ward, a tall, slim, bespectacled man with rows of gang tattoos across the back of his neck, showed no emotion when Superior Court Judge Madge S. Watai handed down the death sentence--the first of her career. She said she did not find any mitigating circumstances to keep him out of the San Quentin gas chamber.
One other grim first was involved: Kevin J. McCormick, 30, became the youngest Los Angeles County deputy district attorney to win a death penalty conviction and sentencing.
"It really doesn't have any significance to me other than it's sort of a reaffirmation that I'm doing something worthwhile," McCormick said after the sentencing. "The end result, hopefully, will have sort of an influence in deterring these gang members. Jail doesn't scare them anymore. . . . Some of them are just cold-blooded killers and I think Carmen falls into that category."
Ward was convicted in December of killing David Adkins, 15, and wounding Kenneth Shy, 16. In the subsequent penalty phase of the trial later the same month, the jury decided Ward should die for the crime. Another 21-year-old inmate on death row is two months older than Ward.
Adkins, Shy and a group of friends were on their way home from a high school basketball game the night of Feb. 20, 1988, when Ward shot them. The prosecution argued that Ward, a Lynwood gang leader and drug dealer, had deliberately crossed into rival gang territory in order to kill someone and that Adkins and Shy, who did not belong to a gang, were his innocent victims.
It took the jury 2 1/2 hours to reach its decision, said McCormick's boss, Joseph A. Markus, the deputy in charge of Compton's hard-core gang unit.
"It appears to me," Markus said, "that the people in South-Central L.A. recognize a certain standard that is an eye for an eye."
The special circumstance that allowed the state to press for the death penalty in the Adkins case was Ward's conviction--also won by McCormick--last June for murdering Ronald Stumpf, 30. That murder occurred in October, 1987, as the result of a drug sale gone sour.
After the sentencing, Rose Marie Barner, Adkins' grandmother, embraced McCormick and thanked him.
In the corridor outside the courtroom, Ward's mother, Louvenia Allen, sat on a cold, concrete bench and wept softly.
Barner walked over to Allen and told her, "I wanted to come and talk to you many times. I knew in my heart that you couldn't have brought a child into the world and raised him to turn out this way."
Barner told her to pray and assured her she felt nothing toward her but sympathy. But Barner added, "I don't have one feeling in my heart for him."
After walking away from the still weeping woman, Barner said, "I've been here every day. I made a promise to my grandson at his grave that I would follow this thing to the end. My grandson had just turned 15. He (Ward) didn't even know David."
McCormick then moved to the bench, sat down, and talked with Allen in hushed tones. He declined to reveal what he had said to her.
"It's seeing the grief on both sides" that is the hardest part of the job, he said later in his office. "It wrecked their lives. I feel awful for everyone involved."
This was the second death sentence handed down in the Compton courthouse in three months. In October, a South Los Angeles gang leader was convicted and sentenced for a double murder.