Appeals court blocks Texas execution of man with schizophrenia

Photo of a gas chamber
Panetti execution halted

Scott Panetti, dressed in a purple cowboy suit, represented himself at the jury trial for the 1992 homicide of the parents of his second wife.

He applied to subpoena more than 200 witnesses – including Jesus Christ and former President John F. Kennedy. Referring to himself as Sargent Iron Horse, he asked if any of the jurors had Indian blood.

Now, he believes that he is on death row because of a satanic conspiracy, not because he was convicted of murder.

Nonetheless, the state of Texas was within hours of inflicting capital punishment on Panetti on December 3, before the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the 5th Circuit temporarily halted the execution.

“The ruling means the court believes there is a question as to whether or not he is mentally incompetent, or was not properly evaluated by the lower courts that considered the issue,” Ken Williams, a South Texas College of Law professor, told the Houston Chronicle.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of the death penalty against the “mentally retarded” constitutes torture under the Eighth Amendment.

The ruling has proved to be contentious and unclear, due to the Supreme Court’s lack of guidance to the states regarding who falls into this category. In multiple cases, people have been executed who appeared to have severe mental illness.

The Panetti case is unique in regard to the conservative backlash against the planned execution. According to Mother Jones magazine, the case is believed to be the first time that libertarian icon Ron Paul has weighed in publicly against an execution.

In addition, a group of Evangelical leaders sent a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, urging clemency.

“Mr. Panetti is one of the most seriously mentally ill prisoners on death row in the United States,” the letter stated. “Rather than serving as a measured response to murder, the execution of Mr. Panetti would only serve to undermine the public’s faith in a fair and moral justice system.”