Archive | execution

12 November 2014 ~ Comments Off

Clemency Petition Filed Today: Execution of Scott Panetti Would “Cross a Moral Line”

For Immediate Release: November 12, 2014
Contact: Laura Burstein, 202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c)
Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com
For More Information: www.texasdefender.org/scott-panetti

Dozens of Mental Health Organizations and Experts, Former Prosecutors, Evangelicals and the American Bar Association Urge Texas Governor to Commute Death Sentence of Severely Mentally Ill Man Facing Imminent Execution

Clemency Petition Filed Today: Execution of Scott Panetti Would
“Cross a Moral Line”

(Austin, Texas, November 12, 2014) Today, dozens of prominent organizations and individuals from Texas and across the country called on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to stop the December 3rd scheduled execution of Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man who has suffered from schizophrenia for more than 30 years.

Mr. Panetti, who represented himself at his capital trial wearing a cowboy costume, will be executed unless a commutation is granted or a court intervenes.  Mr. Panetti has suffered from serious mental illness for over 30 years. He was hospitalized more than a dozen times for psychosis and delusions in the 14 years leading up to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. At his 1995 trial he attempted to call over 200 witnesses, including John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ.

The commutation requests were submitted to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Perry as part of a clemency petition filed by Mr. Panetti’s attorneys this morning, which states: “The case of Scott Louis Panetti is a judicial disaster that has attracted national and international outrage – and for good reason.  Evidence of his incompetency runs like a fissure through every proceeding in his case – from arraignment to execution…The execution of Scott Panetti would cross a moral line.”

The clemency petition can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQZzdFTFJpdVZZRjNjN2NMOE0zTEhocE1Pb0Jr/view?usp=sharing

Letters urging clemency in Mr. Panetti’s case come from several of the nation’s and Texas’ leading mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America and Disability Rights Texas; experts on mental health issues in the law; a former Texas Governor, state Attorneys General, U.S. Attorneys and others with experience in the criminal justice field; 50 Evangelical faith leaders, including Rev. Sam Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, Lynn Hybels of the nationally prominent Willow Creek Church, Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and other faith leaders; Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation; and the American Bar Association, among others.

“As law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, we are deeply troubled that a capital sentence was the result of a trial where a man with schizophrenia represented himself, dressed in a costume,” stated the letter signed by 30 prominent individuals, including former federal and state court judges and prosecutors, Department of Justice officials, parole board members, and other notable legal practitioners from Texas and across the country. “We come together from across the partisan and ideological divide and are united in our belief that, irrespective of whether we support or oppose the death penalty, this is not an appropriate case for execution.”

The first time Mr. Panetti showed signs of being afflicted with a psychotic disorder was in 1978, over 14 years before he shaved his head and killed his in-laws, Amanda and Joseph Alvarado.  During his multiple hospitalizations, doctors diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Detailed information about Mr. Panetti’s medical history can be found in a mental illness timeline starting in 1978 that shows how Mr. Panetti’s mental health degenerated over the years, including how in 1986, the Social Security Administration made a determination that Mr. Panetti was so disabled from schizophrenia that he was entitled to government benefits: http://texasdefender.org/wp-content/uploads/Panetti-Mental-Illness-Timeline.htm

In 1986, Mr. Panetti first succumbed to the delusion that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. In an affidavit his first wife signed to have him involuntarily committed, she testified that he was obsessed with the idea that the devil was in the house. He engaged in a series of bizarre behaviors to exorcize his home, including burying his furniture in the backyard because he thought the devil was in the furniture.

“In his state of severe mental illness, Mr. Panetti should never have been permitted to represent himself at his capital trial,” states the letter from leading national and Texas mental health organizations and experts. “…[T]he fact that he did not have counsel renders his conviction and sentencing even more problematic in light of the delusional nature of his illness.”

In 2004, Texas tried to execute Mr. Panetti, but a federal judge court stayed the execution and the United States Supreme Court ultimately found the Fifth Circuit’s standard for determining competency to be executed unconstitutional in Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007). Notwithstanding that decision, Texas continued to contest Mr. Panetti’s competence to be executed. In 2013, the Fifth Circuit again found him competent to be executed – despite the District Court’s findings that he has a severe mental illness and suffers from paranoid delusions.

On November 6, 2014, the trial court in Kerrville, Texas refused a request by Mr. Panetti’s attorneys to withdraw or modify the execution date so that they would have a meaningful opportunity to contest his competency for execution.

Mr. Panetti has not had a competency hearing in nearly seven years. He has a fixed delusion that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan, working through the State of Texas, to put an end to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“The execution of Scott Panetti would be a cruel injustice that would serve no constructive purpose whatsoever,” states the letter signed by more than 50 notable Evangelical Christian faith leaders, including 20 from Texas. “When we inflict the harshest punishment on the severely mentally ill, whose culpability is greatly diminished by their debilitating conditions, we fail to respect their innate dignity as human beings.”

A complete listing of the clemency letters and more information about Mr. Panetti’s case, including legal documents, video footage, and more, can be accessed here: www.texasdefender.org/scott-panetti

To speak with attorneys for Mr. Panetti, Kathryn Kase of the Texas Defender Service and Greg Wiercioch of the Texas Defender Service and the University of Wisconsin at Madison Law School, or signatories to the letters supporting clemency, please contact: Laura Burstein, Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c).

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30 October 2014 ~ Comments Off

Texas Schedules Execution of Scott Panetti Despite Long History of Severe Mental Illness

Breaking: Today, a state district court announced that Texas has set a December 3, 2014 execution date for Scott Panetti, who has a fixed delusion that Satan, working through the state, is trying to kill him for preaching the Gospel. Below is a statement from Mr. Panetti’s attorney followed by background about the case and a link to a video about Mr. Panetti’s three-decade long history of severe mental illness.

Statement of Greg Wiercioch, Attorney for Scott Panetti, a TX Death Row Prisoner with Severe Mental Illness, on the Setting of an Execution Date

“Scott Panetti is not competent for execution and therefore his execution would serve no retributive purpose.  It is unfortunate that an execution date has been set.

“For more than three decades, Mr. Panetti has suffered from severe mental illness. He was allowed to represent himself at his capital trial, wearing a make-believe cowboy outfit and attempting to subpoena Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy. He has a fixed delusion that Satan, working through the State of Texas, is seeking to execute him for preaching the Gospel. His execution would be a miserable spectacle.”

– Greg Wiercioch, Attorney for Scott Panetti

– October 30, 2014

CASE BACKGROUND:

Scott Panetti has suffered from severe mental illness for over 30 years. It first manifested itself at least a decade before the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. Mr. Panetti’s severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case.

This is the enduring image of Mr. Panetti’s case: a paranoid schizophrenic wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume; on trial for his life; insisting on defending himself without counsel; attempting to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raising an insanity defense. Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system.

Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Fifth Circuit’s unconstitutional standard for assessing competency for execution in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007), the Fifth Circuit once again held in 2013 that Mr. Panetti is competent to be executed – despite the District Court’s findings that he has a severe mental illness and suffers from paranoid delusions.

It is undisputed that Mr. Panetti suffers from severe mental illness that pre-dates the crime and it is uncontested that Mr. Panetti’s delusions center on his belief that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan, working through the State of Texas, to put an end to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the condemned.

The Fifth Circuit’s standard trivializes severe mental illness and deems delusions irrelevant by disregarding their iron-grip persistence. Mr. Panetti’s delusional belief system is like a warped lens that distorts everything that passes through it.

By treating delusional beliefs as irrelevant if a court can identify any part of a prisoner’s beliefs about his execution as “rational,” the Fifth Circuit’s standard ignores the diagnostic features and clinical realities of psychotic disorders and fails to protect the truly insane from execution.

The Fifth Circuit’s standard fails to identify the individuals whom the U.S. Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainwright (1986) and Panetti v. Quarterman (2007) intended to protect: prisoners who may possess some cognitive understanding of the reasons for their execution, but who also exhibit delusional thinking that irredeemably distorts the link between their wrongdoing and the punishment they are about to suffer.

Prominent mental health organizations and others have discussed how Mr. Panetti’s execution would be “a miserable spectacle” that would not satisfy the retributive goal of capital punishment.

For example, Ron Honberg, National Director of Policy and Legal Affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), writes:

http://www.nationallawjournal.com/commentary/id=1202669974719/Opinion-High-Court-Must-Avoid-a-Miserable-Spectacle%3Fmcode=1202615496053&curindex=0

George Parnham, a prominent Houston attorney who has represented many defendants with severe mental illness, including Andrea Yates, writes:

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/parnham-scott-panetti-is-not-competent-for-executi/nhK58/?icid=statesman_internallink_mystatesmaninvitationbox_feb2014_99cdaypass_post-purchase#10b0b5f6.3797509.735487

Please find here the link to the video Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti:

http://vimeo.com/95295025

When a death row prisoner attributes his imminent execution to reasons that only someone suffering from a severe mental illness could espouse – such as Mr. Panetti’s delusion that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospels of Jesus Christ – he cannot be said to have the capacity to accept responsibility for his crime.

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For more information or to arrange an interview with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Greg Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase, or if you would like to speak with mental health experts, please contact Laura Burstein at Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com or 202-626-6868 (o) or 202-669-3411 (c).

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29 October 2014 ~ Comments Off

State of Texas Executes Miguel Paredes

Last night, the State of Texas carried out its final execution of 2014, putting Miguel Paredes to death for the murders of Adrian Torres, Nelly Bravo, and Shawn Michael Caine in San Antonio in 2000. Paredes was 18 years old when he and two accomplices shot the three victims, took their bodies to Frio County, and set them on fire. His two co-defendants are currently serving life sentences.

The 10 people put to death by lethal injection this year represents the fewest executions in Texas since 1996.  Several media outlets have noted the overall decline in use of the death penalty both in Texas and nationwide.  “In Texas, the Death Penalty is Slowly Dying Out” (The Atlantic, October 29, 2014), journalist Matt Ford observes that “Thirty people have been executed so far this year in the entire United States, whereas Texas alone executed 40 people at its peak in 2000.”

Death sentences have also declined significantly.  In 1999, prosecutor sought and juries imposed 48 new death sentences in Texas.  For the last five years, that number has been in the single digits.  As Tom Dart notes in his article about last night’s execution (“Miguel Paredes set to be 10th and last Texas prisoner executed in 2014,” The Guardian, October 28, 2014), geographic isolation and racial disparities persist in the imposition of new death sentences in Texas.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice already has scheduled nine executions in the first few months of 2015.

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27 October 2014 ~ Comments Off

Texas scheduled to execute Miguel Paredes

On Tuesday, October 28, 2014, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Miguel Paredes for the murders of Adrian Torres, Nelly Bravo, and Shawn Michael Caine in San Antonio. Paredes was 18 years old in 2000, when he and two accomplices shot the three victims, took their bodies to Frio County, and set them on fire. The two co-defendants are currently serving life sentences.

Paredes, who was part of the violent Hermanos de Pistoleros gang, sees life differently now that he has become a Christian. He reportedly understands and accepts the consequences of his actions, but does not support the death penalty, telling the San Antonio Express-News, “Focus on the people that are really affected by this. This is not painless. It’s hurting the people that are law-abiding, that pay their taxes, that don’t hurt nobody. Their only crime is to love somebody.”  Paredes has a 16-year-old son and numerous siblings.

This is the last execution scheduled to occur in Texas in 2014.  This will be the fewest number of people executed here since 1996. To date, Texas has executed 517 inmates, more than any other state.

You can voice your opposition to this execution by attending a vigil in your area.

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17 September 2014 ~ Comments Off

State of Texas Executes Lisa Coleman

The State of Texas executed Lisa Coleman this evening, September 17, 2014, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her request for a stay.  She was convicted a decade ago in Tarrant County in the starvation death of 9-year-old Davontae Williams. The boy’s mother, Marcella Williams, took a plea deal to avoid the death penalty and is serving a life sentence.  She will be eligible for parole in 2044.

It was the ninth execution in Texas this year, out of 30 nationwide.  Coleman was the sixth woman put to death in Texas since 1982 and the second in 2014.  Read more from the Washington Post.

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16 September 2014 ~ Comments Off

Federal court rejects appeal of Lisa Coleman

*Update as of 5:15 PM on September 17, 2014*  The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Lisa Coleman, allowing her execution to proceed.  Read more from the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/17/texas-prepares-for-a-rare-occurrence-an-execution-of-a-woman/.

The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Lisa Ann Coleman on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Coleman was convicted a decade ago in Tarrant County in the starvation death of 9-year-old Davontae Williams. The boy’s mother, Marcella Williams, took a plea deal to avoid the death penalty and is serving a life sentence.  She will be eligible for parole in 2044.

According to the Associated Press, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Coleman’s appeal earlier today.  The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also declined to commute her death sentence.  Attorneys contend that the kidnapping charge, which served as the aggravating factor that paved the way for prosecutors to charge Coleman with capital murder, should be reviewed by the courts.

If this execution proceeds, Coleman will be the sixth woman put to death in Texas since 1982.  It will be the ninth execution to date this year in the Lone Star State.

Read more about Coleman’s case, including interviews with her aunt and original defense attorney, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: http://www.star-telegram.com/2014/09/15/6122414/arlington-womans-execution-set.html

and from NBC 5 Dallas- Fort Worth:http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Court-Declines-to-Stop-Womans-Execution-275313871.html

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10 September 2014 ~ Comments Off

State of Texas executes Willie Trottie

This evening, September 10th, the State of Texas executed Willie Trottie. A Harris County jury sentenced him to death for the 1993 murders of his former girlfriend Barbara Canada, and her brother, Titus, at the Canada family home in Houston. Canada’s mother and sister also were wounded in the attack.

The execution took place under a shroud of secrecy, as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice still refuses to disclose its source for compounded pentobarbital, the sole drug used in executions here.  According to the Associated Press, “attorneys for Trottie contended the dose of pentobarbital for his lethal injection was past its effectiveness date and could subject him to unconstitutional ‘tortuous’ pain.”  The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal.

It was the first execution in Texas in four months and the state’s first since the botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona.  Earlier in the day, the State of Missouri also carried out an execution, putting Earl Ringo, Jr. to death.  Both Texas and Missouri have executed eight people to date in 2014.

Harris County now accounts for 122 executions since 1982, more than any state in the country besides Texas and twice as many as any other county.

Harris County prosecutors have sentenced 294 people to death since 1976; there are approximately 100 inmates still on death row who were convicted in Harris County … more than one-­third of the current death row population. 

Read more about the case of Willie Trottie from the Associated Press and the Guardian.

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09 September 2014 ~ Comments Off

Texas to Resume Executions on Wednesday with Secret Drug Supply

The State of Texas is scheduled to resume executions this Wednesday, September 10th, after an unusual four-month hiatus.  It if proceeds, the execution of Willie Trottie will be the first execution in Texas since April and the first here since the botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona.

This execution will take place under a shroud of secrecy, as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice still refuses to disclose its source for compounded pentobarbital, the sole drug used in executions here.  In an appeal filed today with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys for Trottie contend that the lethal injection drugs that will be used on him have expired.  Read more from the Texas Tribune.  Earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice do not have to disclose information about the pharmacy or pharmacist now supplying the lethal injection drugs used in executions.  Read more from the Guardian.

A Harris County jury sentenced Willie Trottie to death for the 1993 murders of his former girlfriend Barbara Canada, and her brother, Titus, at the Canada family home in Houston. Canada’s mother and sister also were wounded in the attack.

The State of Missouri has also scheduled the execution of Earl Ringo for Wednesday.  Texas, Florida and Missouri  each have carried out seven executions to date this year.  Read more from the Associated Press.

We encourage all Texans to attend a vigil in your community.

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