Today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals delayed a grave injustice Texas appeared ready to carry out less than twelve hours later. The court stayed the execution of Scott Panetti, a schizophrenic Texas man, in order to “to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter.” In 1992, Panetti killed his in-laws after fighting “spiritual warfare” for six years. During his sham capital murder trial, he wore a purple cowboy outfit while acting as his own lawyer and tried to call Jesus Christ, the Pope, and his own alter ego Sarge, as witnesses. He believes the government is prosecuting him for preaching the Gospels.
A remarkably broad coalition of America’s pre-eminent mental health groups, along with advocates, politicians from across the aisle, and even other countries, implored the state to act humanely and stay the execution. Now, no thanks to Texas, the federal Fifth Circuit, located in Louisiana, has enabled a full and current analysis of whether Panetti is fit for execution. Rick Perry, and Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals among others who could have done the same have, of course, earned no forgiveness.
The conservative letter to Perry, signed by 19 national leaders including Gary Bauer and former Virginia Gov. Ken Cuccinelli, implored: “The authority to take a man’s life is the most draconian penalty that we allow our government to exercise. As conservatives, we must be on guard that such an extraordinary government sanction not be used against a person who is mentally incapable of rational thought.”
Greg Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase, the tireless attorneys for Scott Panetti, said this of their victory in the Fifth Circuit:
We are grateful that the court stayed tonight’s scheduled execution of Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia for three decades, for a careful review of the issues surrounding his competency. Mr. Panetti’s illness, schizophrenia, was present for years prior to the crime, profoundly affected his trial, and appears to have worsened in recent years. Mr. Panetti has not had a competency evaluation in seven years, and we believe that today’s ruling is the first step in a process which will clearly demonstrate that Mr. Panetti is too severely mentally ill to be executed.
We would like to remember the Alvarado family today and express our deepest sympathies for the loss of Amanda and Joe Alvarado.
We believe that people who live with severe mental illness should have treatment options to keep themselves and others safe. When people who have severe mental illness enter our criminal justice system, the system has a moral obligation to respond appropriately to the limitations and deficits presented by mental illness.