Man’s Sanity No Factor in Third-Strike Sentence

Jury couldn’t decide his state of mind at the time of shootings.

By Louis Galvan
The Fresno Bee

(Published September 29, 2000)

A Squaw Valley man, who was convicted of trying to kill his father and shooting two neighbors, was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in state prison, but not for the above-mentioned crimes.

That is because the same jurors who convicted Tommie Lewis Ward, 47, of those crimes, were not able to decide whether he was sane at the time of the offenses.

The jury, however, did find he was sane when he committed the crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm — a charge that was filed against him as a result of the shootings May 26, 1999.

It is for that charge that Ward is headed to prison.

With Ward’s prior convictions, including a 1983 incident of brandishing a firearm in the presence of a police officer and a 1992 incident of assaulting a peace officer with a deadly weapon, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Gary Austin ruled him a third striker under the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law and gave him the maximum 25-to-life term.

Austin said there is no doubt Ward has had a long history of mental illness and that generally he is a “very nice individual,” but that Ward knew or should have known that he becomes “a walking time bomb” when he is not on medication.

The shootings, Austin said, would not have occurred if Ward had not been armed.

According to testimony in Ward’s trial five months ago, Ward is a paranoid schizophrenic who was not properly medicated at the time of the shootings and was having a psychotic episode.

Sanity retrial canceled

Less than 30 minutes after Ward was sentenced to prison, he appeared before another judge, Wayne B. Ellison, where a pending retrial on the sanity issue was called off when both sides stipulated that Ward was insane at the time of the shootings.

That means that instead of going to prison for one count of attempted murder in the shooting of his father, Bufford Ward, and two counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter in the shootings of his neighbors, Sam and Patsy Uptain, he will be sent to a state mental hospital for treatment.

Ellison set a hearing for Oct. 6 to determine to which mental facility Ward will be sent.

Couple shot in the head

Ward also is expected to find out at that time where he will go first — to prison or to a mental hospital.

According to testimony, Sam Uptain, now 70, and his wife, Patsy, now 59, were at their home when they heard a gunshot coming from the direction of Ward’s house in the 38000 block of Dunlap Road.

Sam Uptain went outside to investigate and saw Tommie Ward running around the side of his house.

Thinking the defendant had shot his father, the couple went next door to investigate and found Tommie Ward had shot and killed his dog.

The Uptains were talking to Bufford Ward when Tommie Ward approached and shot Sam Uptain in the head with a shotgun.

The defendant racked another round in the shotgun and shot Patsy Uptain, grazing her head.

Maximum term requested

When Bufford Ward went to call the police, his son got a different gun and shot his father, grazing his shoulder.

On Thursday, in a prepared statement to Austin, the Uptains pleaded with Austin to sentence the defendant to the maximum term.

Reading from the statement, Sam Uptain spoke of the pain and hardship he and his wife have been forced to endure since the shootings.

He said his wife is still going to counseling and that he has been getting dizzy spells and is still seeing doctors for his injuries.

Sam Uptain said he and his wife were forced to sell their home at a loss because they no longer felt safe at their longtime residence.

“Now it’s time to go on with our lives,” Sam Uptain said later outside the courtroom.