Is Texas Really Going to Kill a Schizophrenic Prisoner?

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On Wednesday, Texas district judge Keith Williams declined to postpone the execution of diagnosed three-decade schizophrenic Scott Panetti set for December 3rd for a mental competency hearing. At the 1995 capital murder trial, Panetti insisted on acting as his own attorney, dressed in a cowboy costume, and tried to call the Pope, Jesus, and John F. Kennedy to the stand as witnesses.

The case has attracted significant attention around the country. The since-denied clemency petition filed November 12th was signed by the American Psychiatric Association, American Bar Association, Mental Health America and Disability Rights Texas, 55 Evangelical leaders, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and former Texas Governor Mark White. Texas is well known as the kill-one-kill-all state when it comes to capital punishment, including innocent people, to death.

Even the European Union, leagues ahead of Texas on human rights, implored Rick Perry to reconsider:

“The execution of persons suffering from a mental disorder is contrary to widely accepted human rights norms and is in contradiction to the minimum standards of human rights set forth in several international human rights instruments,” the bloc wrote.

There’s zero chance of that. There is, however, still a glimmer of hope. Panetti’s attorneys have sinceasked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to stay his imminent execution to allow for a meaningful opportunity to assess his competency for execution”. The defense is hoping to prove Panetti’s incompetence for execution, including a recent deterioration in condition. Panetti believes the government implanted a listening wire in his tooth, fears his preaching of the Gospel, and hears voices.

In 1992, when he killed his estranged wife’s parents, he had been alienating everyone in his life for six years as he fought a “spiritual war” with “Satan,” performing exorcisms and descending into madness. Off his psychotropic medication, Panetti shaved his head and dressed in war clothing before committing the crime.

In agonizing irony, seven years ago the Supreme Court used Panetti’s case to establish inmates fitting Panetti’s profile to achieve a more thorough investigation into mental competence by the court. Either the district judge Keith Williams doesn’t know that (not surprising for a Texas judge), or doesn’t give a damn.

Panetti attorney Kathryn Kase said this of the defense’s push for justice:

“Mr. Panetti, who has been a paranoid schizophrenic for over thirty years, has deteriorated in the last several years. If there is to be any legitimacy to the capital punishment process in this troubling case, it is essential to conduct a hearing on whether or not Mr. Panetti is competent to be executed prior to carrying out his execution. As an obviously severely mentally ill man with schizophrenia, Mr. Panetti should never have been allowed to represent himself in his death penalty case. Mr. Panetti should not have been allowed to reject a plea deal that would have saved his life. Now, Mr. Panetti must not be executed without a competency hearing. This is the last chance to prevent an injustice from turning into an immoral tragedy.” 




About Author

Ben Sherman

Ben Sherman has been a BOR staff writer since 2011. A graduate of the University of Texas, Ben has worked on campaigns, in political consulting, and has written for other news outlets like Think Progress. Ben considers campaign finance reform the fundamental challenge of our time because it distorts almost every other issue in American politics.

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