David Junior Ward

Executed October 12, 2001 by Lethal Injection in North Carolina

51st murderer executed in U.S. in 2001
734th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
4th murderer executed in North Carolina in 2001
20th murderer executed in North Carolina since 1976

Since 1976
Date of Execution
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
Date of
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Date of
Method of
to Murderer
Date of
Lethal Injection
David Junior Ward

B / M / 29 - 39

Dorothy Mae Smith

B / F / 45


Along with accomplice Wesley Harris, Ward went to the home of Dorothy Mae Smith and ambushed her as she was returning from closing a convenience store. Smith was shot five times and $4,000 was taken. Ward was arrested on other charges and gave a complete confession. Ward's cooperation led to the arrest of Harris. $1000, a .32 handgun, and a .22 rifle were found in Harris' car. Harris was tried first and sentenced to Life Imprisonment.

State v. Ward, 449 S.E.2d 709 (N.C. 1994) (Direct Appeal).
Ward v. North Carolina, 115 S.Ct. 2014 (1995) (Cert. Denied).
Ward v. French, 989 F.Supp. 752 (E.D.N.C. 1997) (Habeas).
Ward v. French, 165 F.3d 22 (4th Cir. 1998).

Internet Sources:

North Carolina Department of Correction

North Carolina Department of Correction (David Junior Ward Chronology)

North Carolina Department of Correction (Press Release)

Raleigh - Execution Date Set For David Junior Ward - Correction Secretary Theodis Beck has set Oct.12 as the execution date for death row inmate David Junior Ward (#0423876). The execution is scheduled for 2 a.m. at Central Prison.

An execution date for Ward was originally set for June 25, 1999, but a stay of execution was granted by the North Carolina Supreme Court on June 9, 1999. That stay was lifted Aug. 16, 2001.

Ward, 40, was sentenced to death April 14, 1992 in Pitt County Superior Court for the April 3, 1991 murder of Dorothy Mae Smith.

A media tour at Central Prison is scheduled for Monday, October 8 at 10 a.m. This will be the only time the news media will be allowed to photograph the execution chamber and death watch area before the execution. Interested reporters and photographers should be at Central Prison’s visitor center promptly at 10 a.m. During the tour, Warden R.C. Lee will explain execution procedures. The session will last approximately one hour. Reporters who plan to attend the media tour should call the Department of Correction Public Information Office at number above.


David Ward was sentenced to death April 14, 1992 in Pitt County Superior Court for the April 3, 1991 murder of Dorothy Mae Smith during a robbery. Dorothy and her husband, Seymour Smith, owned a convenience store.

On 3 April 1991 the victim and her brother closed the store around 10:30 p.m. Dorothy filled a money box with $4,000 in cash and an undetermined number of checks. She collected her personal belongings--including fruit, crackers, a comb, and a magazine--which she placed in a white plastic bag. She also picked up her husband's .38 caliber pistol. She got in her pickup truck and headed toward her house a short distance down the road from the store; her brother followed her home. At the house Smith turned into the driveway and went to the back of her house; her brother stopped in the road and watched until he saw her brake lights turn on.

At about 10:30 p.m. the Smith's next-door neighbor heard sounds that at first he thought were exploding firecrackers, but he immediately realized they were gunshots--five shots fired in rapid succession. He went outside to investigate and saw only Dorothy's pickup parked at the back door of her house. He saw no one, and becoming concerned, he and a friend went to the Smith house, where they discovered Dorothy's body lying on the ground near the back door. There was blood coming from the back of her head, and she did not respond when they called her name. They phoned 911 for assistance. Police arrived and found no vital signs in Dorothy. The deputies observed Dorothy's body, fully clothed, lying close to the back door of the house, with her feet nearest the house, her head away from the house, and a set of keys and prescription glasses on the ground near her hand. They found an apple, some fruit, crackers, a comb, a deed, and four spent shell casings strewn in the driveway. Later, they found a .32 caliber bullet and a .22 caliber bullet at the base of an air conditioning unit, also near the house.

The medical examiner testified that Dorothy had been shot five times with small caliber firearms. She found gunshot wounds on the left side of the back of the head and neck area, on the left arm near the shoulder, on the left side of the chest, on the left side of her body near the back and just below the waist, and on the left arm. All the gunshots had been fired from a distance exceeding three to four feet from Dorothy. The wound to Smith's head would have been immediately incapacitating and the wounds to the chest and shoulder fatal if left untreated. The bruise on the right side of Smith's forehead, as well as the bruise to her right elbow, led Dr. Gilliland to conclude that Smith was immediately incapacitated by the gunshot wound to the head and died very quickly. Further, the angle of the other wounds, in conjunction with the bruises, led her to conclude that the head wound occurred after the others.

David Junior Ward was soon arrested on unrelated charges and gave the following account: Ward stated that he came to Greenville and got up with Wesley Harris. Ward said Harris said he had a job to do that night and said they were going to rob Seymour Smith's wife when she closed the store. He stated that they went by the store and she was there so they rode around until it got dark. Ward said about 10:00 p.m. that they parked Harris's blue Saab car on the road that runs off between the store and the Smith house.

"We ran across the road and got in the bushes next to the driveway. I had a rifle and Wesley had a pistol. The rifle was a .22 caliber and the pistol was a .32 caliber. When Mrs. Smith pulled in the driveway and pulled around back and got out of the truck, we started shooting. Wesley ran and got the money box after she fell and we ran across the road and got in the car and left. We put the money in the ditch near Empire Brushes. We got a money box and a white plastic bag. I called a cab and went to my girlfriend's house near Belvoir. Before I could get up with Wesley the next day, the cops got me." David said Wesley kept both guns that were used.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

David Ward Scheduled Execution Date and Time: 10/12/01 12:00 am EST.

David Junior Ward, a 40-year-old death row inmate in North Carolina, is scheduled for execution on October 12th, 2001.

On April 3rd, 1991, David Ward met up with Wesley Harris in Greenville, North Carolina. Harris asked Ward to come with him on a “job he had to do.” His plan was to rob Dorothy Mae Smith upon her return home with the cash from her husband’s convenience store. Under the influence of crack-cocaine, Ward agreed to assist Harris with his plan. Wesley Harris provided himself and Ward with guns, and the two men hid, armed, in the bushes in front of Smith’s home, awaiting her arrival home from the store. When she pulled up that night around 10:30 pm, the two men jumped from the bushes, both firing their weapons. Evidence shows that although both guns were fired, only bullets from one struck and killed Dorothy Mae Smith. David Ward has consistently maintained that he purposely shot off to the side so as not to strike Smith, and court records state that there were bullet holes found at the base of an air conditioning unit attached to the house, although it was never determined which gun caused them. Following the murder and robbery, Wesley Harris collected Smith’s cashbox with all of the money and hid the weapons they used at his apartment. Ward never received any of the money from the robbery.

The following day, David Ward was apprehended for questioning and immediately confessed his involvement in the robbery, and led authorities to the home of Wesley Harris, where they found the money and weapons from the robbery. Ward cooperated fully with the police, voluntarily waiving his rights to remain silent or have an attorney present during questioning. The only evidence of David Ward’s participation in the crime is his own confession.

Both suspects were charged with robbery and first-degree murder. Wesley Harris was tried first for the crime, convicted, and given a life sentence. David Ward was tried a month later. His appointed legal counsel had practiced mostly real estate law, had not been involved in a felony criminal case in over five years, and had never before defended a 1st degree murder suspect. Although the defense submitted fourteen non-statutory mitigating circumstances, David Ward was convicted and given the death penalty. Ward had none of the money from the robbery on him when he was apprehended, and there was no evidence that he spent any of it, but he was still given a sentence of death based on the one aggravating factor of the case, that Ward had participated in the murder/robbery for his own “pecuniary [financial] gain.”

In twelve out of thirteen recent North Carolina cases involving the same one aggravating factor, pecuniary gain, defendants were given a life sentence. This fact leads to the conclusion that the death penalty was assigned to David Junior Ward arbitrarily, in direct opposition to Constitutional law.

It is additionally important to discuss Ward’s background. David Ward was raised in poverty, working on local farms with his father picking cucumbers and tobacco from the age of nine. His father passed away when he was fifteen (an event that caused him profound emotional distress) Ward assumed the position of head of his household, providing for his mother and seven siblings, dropping out of school in the eleventh grade. Ward became a father in 1984, and, although it is difficult, attempts to both financially support and maintain a close relationship with his daughter Kevette and her mother, through correspondence and visits to the prison.

Alert from the People of Faith Against the Death Penalty

The Casualness of a Death Sentence: David Ward Set to Die 10/12 in NC.

In many ways it is no wonder why NC Gov. Mike Easley granted clemency to Robert Bacon and gave no reason. If he talked about the racism of the trial and sentencing, the disproportionate sentencing, the inadequate counsel, he would be describing the need for a moratorium on executions in North Carolina, which he opposes. So he granted clemency and said nothing. On at least two of those issues he would be setting a precedent that would affect David Junior Ward, who is scheduled to be poisoned to death on behalf of the people of North Carolina at 2 a.m., Friday, October 12, 2001 in Raleigh.

Please read the following account of David Ward's case prepared by his attorneys and contemplate how North Carolina's justice system, which handled probably more than 500 homicides in 1991, deemed David Ward the worst of the worst. Then please encourage your congregation and your minister to pray and preach about David Ward and ourselves during services, and get people to contact the governor for clemency, and write your lawmakers, and your local newspapers.

We can't stop because the killing isn't stopping. What graver example of our utterly broken system of capital punishment can you find than in the story of David Ward?

Because his crime does not exhibit any of the gross aggravating factors which have previously characterized sentences of death in our state, David Ward's execution would represent a new "casualness" in imposition of death sentences in our state, a hardened attitude which has become entrenched in other Southern states. The disparity of Ward's death sentence with the life sentence of his codefendant is an example of the unfair, uneven, and random imposition of the death penalty. It is also an example of how the luck of the draw of counsel can affect the death sentencing process.

In April 1991, David Ward went to visit Wesley Harris in Greenville, NC. Harris told Ward that he had "a job to do," that he wanted Ward to help him rob Dorothy Mae Smith. Harris had a plan, based on his knowledge that Smith's husband was in jail on drug charges. Ward went along with Harris's plan.

Wesley Harris supplied the weapons and drove himself and Ward to Smith's home, where they waited for her to return with the receipts from her convenience store business. Smith was shot and killed at her back door. Two guns were fired, but only the bullets from one gun struck Smith. Ward has consistently maintained that he deliberately fired to the side and did not shoot Smith. Harris then took the cashbox and all the money. Ward never complained about Harris receiving all of the proceeds from the robbery. Harris his the guns in his apartment and discarded the cashbox.

The following day Ward was questioned bylaw enforcement officials about some other matters and promptly confessed to his role in the robbery and murder. He told the police where he could find the weapons and helped them locate and arrest Harris.

Harris and Ward were both charged with murder and robbery. Harris was tried first, convicted, and received a life sentence. At Ward's trial a month later, the judge did not allow the jury to hear testimony regarding Harris's life sentence. The only evidence of Ward's involvement was his own confession.

Ward's appointed lead trial counsel had a small town general practice, consisting primarily of real estate closings. His proactive included some criminal work, but he had never handled a first degree murder case. He asked to be relieved from the appointment because he did not feel he was qualified to handle a capital case. He was briefly allowed to withdraw, and was then reappointed, being told by a judge that no other lawyer was available. Assistant counsel was a young lawyer one year out of law school, also inexperienced in capital cases at that time. Neither of Ward's trial attorneys would qualify as death case counsel under the new rules of the NC Commission for Indigent Defense Services.

The jury returned a death sentence, based on the single aggravating factor of "pecuniary gain" even though there was no evidence that Ward obtained any money from the crimes not proof that he ever intended to benefit financially. The jury's decision could only be based on an inference of an intent to benefit from commission of the crime. It is rare for a North Carolina jury to recommend death where a defendant was not the main perpetrator of the crime, where there was no torture or abuse of the victim before death, and no other aggravating factor beyond "pecuniary gain." The Robert Bacon and Ward cases are the first two such cases in which death sentences resulted.

On appeal, the NC Supreme Court found that Ward's death sentence was not disproportionate to Harris's life sentence, despite Harris's role as the architect of the crime, supplier of the weapons, and recipient of all the proceeds, and despite Ward's confessions of his own participation and his help in apprehending Harris. The NC Supreme Court also the pattern of 12 previous life sentences in murders with the single aggravating factor of pecuniary gain, a pattern which indicates that North Carolina juries do not ordinarily return death sentences in such cases.

For more than three years, Ward was denied the benefit of the new discovery provisions enacted for death row inmates. Finally, just before a scheduled execution in June 1999, the NC Supreme Court stayed the execution and ruled that Ward was within the scope of the discovery law. The state continued to fight against discovery, until the NC Supreme Court explicitly ruled that the documents must be provided.

When counsel reviewed the law enforcement files, in September 2000, they found two witness statements that had not been provided to Ward's trial counsel. Trial counsel was not even aware of the existence of the witnesses. These two witnesses stated that they had been with codefendant Harris in the hours after the murder and robbery, that Harris had a great deal of cash, and was spending it freely. They confirmed that Ward was not with Harris during this time. The suppressed testimony would have been a strong showing of Ward's lack of involvement in any "pecuniary gain" from the robbery.

Ward's motion regarding the suppressed witness statements was quickly denied, without a hearing, by Judge Russell Duke, Jr., of Pitt County, who merely signed an order drafted by the state. The NC Supreme Court denied review of that decision.

Although the North Carolina statutes provide that an execution date should only be set after a defendant has had an opportunity to seek review in both state and federal courts, the NC Secretary of Correction set a new execution date for Ward of Oct. 12, 2001 without allowing federal court review of the federal constitutional issues. The NC Supreme Court has refused to review that decision. The state is moving forward with the Oct. 12 execution date without permitting a stay for federal court review of the issues raised by the suppressed witness statements.

Life History of David Junior Ward

David Junior Ward was born in 1961 in a rural area of Pitt County, near the Tar River, before it becomes the Pamlico, and the Beufort County line. He is the oldest of eight children. Throughout David's childhood the family was poor. David's father endeavored to support his wife and children by working on nearby farms. To help support the family, David joined his father in the fields, picking cucumbers from age 9 and harvesting tobacco from age 12.

The home where David grew up appears to have been filled with strong emotions and passionate conflict. Those feelings sometimes exploded in violent fights which often left the combatants bleeding and occasionally required hospitalization. David's parents did not discourage these fights, his father often laughing off the incidents. Only on occasion would his father administer some form of punishment, almost always consisting of a beating. David remembers being whipped with a belt "at the time that everybody else got beat with drop cords." David does not feel he was abused, and describes his childhood as typical and happy.

David felt close to his father, whom he describes as a good role model who did not abuse his wife or children, and who did not use drugs. When his father died, David was fifteen. In response to the death, David first withdrew from others, becoming emotionally isolated. At the same time he was forced to begin assuming the role of head of the household, shouldering the responsibility of providing case and money to his mother, brothers, and sisters.

David worked for a while on a tobacco farm, then became a janitor at his school, working in the morning and attending classes in the afternoon. In the 11th grade he quit school because he was "burned out" from the dual commitment. David still regrets leaving school, which he now looks back on as enjoyable. During this period, David also had the duty of caring for his grandmother, who was blind. On regular morning visits to her home, he would fix her breakfast and clean the house.

Through the years David moved from job to job, mostly manual labor and farm work. At one point he worked for an asbestos removal company, but decided to leave because he thought the work was making him sick. Most of the money David earned was given to his mother for the family's support. David's troubles with the law began as a teenager. He stared using drugs at 13 and later turned to stealing cars and robbing stores to pay for his drug habit. On some occasions this activity landed him in jail.

In 1983 David began dating Rosa Lee Knight. A year later their daughter Kevette was born. Although difficult, David has tried to maintain a close relationship with Kevette and to provide support for both mother and daughter. Kevette and David send letters back and forth, and she has come to visit him in prison. David Ward remains committed to his mother, who recently suffered a stroke, but is recovering. David's courtroom outburst at his trial was in response to his perception that the district attorney was badgering his mother on the witness stand.