Stefanie Silvey Investigates: Donald Ray Wallace - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

Stefanie Silvey Investigates: Donald Ray Wallace

Reporter: Stefanie Silvey

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

Will Donald Ray Wallace escape the death sentence? After more than 20 years on Indiana's death row, it's a question many Hoosiers are asking.

In 1980, Wallace broke into the Vanderburgh County home of the Patrick Gilligan family. The family came home during the break-in and were taken by surprise by Wallace, who shot them.

Wallace told friends he shot the children because he "couldn't let the children grow up with the trauma of not having parents."

So, why hasn't the death sentence in such a horrible crime been carried out? First of all, the appeals process is long and complicated, some death row inmates outlive their attorneys. An inmate's appeal can go to three different courts - state and federal - any number of times. After a ruling by one court, the inmate can appeal to a higher court. 

Donald Ray Wallace is nearing the end of his appeals, but even at this late date, his death sentence could still be overturned. The process can take so long, death row inmates sometimes outlive their attorneys. Such lengthy appeals make executions less likely.

"I'm funding his existence in prison," muses Eric Williams, Vanderburgh County's Chief Deputy.

All that remain from his death row conviction are the hoards of photographs and reams of documents. That case was tried 22-years-ago but Wallace still awaits execution.

Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco says, "I think he will be executed. It's not a sure thing."

Clark County Prosecutor Steven Stewart wrote a book on Indiana's death penalty. He blames the many delays in the Wallace case on appellate judges. "Where his petition sat for seven years, I believe, without any decision ever being made on the case. Now, I'm talking for most of that time, it was just sitting on the judge' desk waiting for a decision to be handed down. It was held so long that the defense attorney died, and they had to appoint a new defense attorney, and start all over again."

Stewart says no excuse was ever given."They have no incentive to explain themselves. They are the Gods of our criminal justice system."

Judge Richard Young contests Stewart's theory. "I wouldn't agree with Mr. Stewart, regarding his characterization, and I'm sure many members of Congress wouldn't agree with that either."

Federal Judge Richard Young says lifetime appointments help ensure public opinion doesn't influence their decisions. With something as serious as the death penalty, he says it's important for judges to be thorough. And that takes time."I think life without parole is becoming a more viable option. I really do. You know, there are a lot of people who think the death sentence and an execution is an easy way out for someone who has committed a very heinous crime."

While that debate continues, many say enough is enough.Deputy Williams is one of them. "This person is still costing the taxpayers money. It's kind of frustrating from my perspective. As far as I'm concerned, his time is up."

Stan Levco agrees. "If I knew in advance somehow, that you could tell me from now on that everybody that I file against is going to take 20 years of appeals, I would seriously consider not filing anymore death penalties. I think that is ridiculous."

Levco says a decision on Wallace's final appeal is expected any day now. If there are no more delays, Wallace could face an execution date early next year.

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