HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) – Attorneys for a Texas death row inmate argue his execution set for Wednesday evening would provide no retribution or deterrence because prisoner Scott Panetti is too delusional.
Panetti’s lawyers are asking that his scheduled lethal injection be stopped and want the U.S. Supreme Court to examine the broader question of whether executing the mentally ill is unconstitutionally cruel.
Panetti, 56, was convicted and condemned in 1995, three years after he shot and killed his estranged wife’s parents at their home in the Texas Hill Country. At his trial, he acted as his own attorney, dressed in a purple cowboy outfit, attempted to subpoena more than 200 witnesses, including the pope and Jesus Christ, and took on an alternate personality, “Sarge,” to testify.
“Mr. Panetti’s execution would offend contemporary standards of decency,” attorneys Gregory Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase told the Supreme Court. Both visited with Panetti in prison in the past few weeks and said his mental condition had worsened and he should be entitled to a new round of competency tests.
Another appeal before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sought a reprieve to accommodate those tests.
State attorneys said records showed no significant change since Panetti’s last formal examination seven years ago. During his trial and subsequent appeals, no court has found him incompetent or insane.
“Panetti’s assertion of severe mental illness are in doubt when compared to the multiple past findings on his sanity, competency to stand trial and competency to be executed, as well as evidence submitted by the state,” said Ellen Stewart-Klein, an assistant Texas attorney general. “Panetti’s case is an inappropriate one to create a new rule of law.”
In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled states may not execute killers whose insanity means they can’t understand why they’re being put to death. In 2002, the justices prohibited the execution of the mentally impaired. Five years later, ruling on an appeal from Panetti, the court said mentally ill condemned prisoners could be put to death if they have a factual and rational understanding of why they’re being punished.
Panetti has insisted Satan is working through Texas prison officials to execute him to keep him from preaching the Gospel.
His lethal injection would be the 11th this year in the nation’s busiest death penalty state and be an “unconscionable execution of a severely mentally ill man who would die without comprehending what his death means,” Kase said.
Stewart-Klein said defense claims of his mental condition were exaggerated and previous tests had indicated some of his behavior could be contrived.
The Hayward, Wisconsin, native was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1978 and had been hospitalized more than a dozen times for treatment in the decade before fatally shooting Joe and Amanda Alvarado. Their daughter, who was married to Panetti, and her 3-year-old daughter had moved in with them and she obtained a court order to keep Panetti away.
Enraged, he armed himself with a rifle, a sawed-off shotgun and knives, dressed in camouflage clothing and broke into the home in Fredericksburg, about 60 miles north of San Antonio. Both victims were shot a close range.