Archive | severe mental illness

13 April 2016 ~ Comments Off on Marcus Druery deemed incompetent for execution

Marcus Druery deemed incompetent for execution

Last week, a Brazos County judge deemed Marcus Druery incompetent to be executed due to evidence of his severe mental illness. Prosecutors did not contest the decision, but the court left the option open for Druery to be re-examined in the future if prosecutors feel there has been a change in his mental capacities, according to the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

According to KBTX.com, two court-appointed psychiatrists agree Druery suffers from mental illness that leaves him unable to understand why he is being punished. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ford v. Wainwright that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment. The Ford decision left the determination of competency for execution up to each state, however, and it has not prevented the execution of scores of offenders diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illnesses.

In October 2013, in a unanimous decision, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) ruled that Druery was entitled to a hearing to determine his mental competency to be executed.  The CCA granted Druery a stay just days before his scheduled execution on August 1, 2012; he was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2002 murder of Skyler Browne in rural Brazos County.

It is extremely rare for an individual on death row in Texas to be deemed incompetent to be executed.  The Texas Legislature did not even establish a statute governing the process to determine competency to be executed until 1999, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution.

Recently, however, the Fifth Circuit granted a stay of execution to Texan John Battaglia to give his attorneys more time to develop claims he may be mentally incompetent for execution.  The Fifth Circuit also stayed the execution of Scott Panetti on December 3, 2014 to further review issues surrounding his competency.

In a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Panetti vs. Quarterman, the Justices ruled that “the Fifth Circuit’s incompetency standard is too restrictive to afford a prisoner Eighth Amendment protections.” At issue is the distinction between the prisoner’s “awareness” versus “rational understanding” of why she/he is to be executed.

Mental illness can impact a defendant’s ability to communicate effectively with his/her attorney, participate in legal proceedings, make rational decisions, or behave appropriately in a courtroom. It also can impact his/her ability to assist with appeals.

At least 25 individuals with documented diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other persistent and severe mental illnesses have been executed by the State of Texas. Many had sought treatment before the commission of their crimes, but were denied long-term care.

The American Bar Association, The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Alliance on Mental illness have adopted a recommendation calling for a prohibition on the death penalty for those with severe mental disorders or disabilities.  Numerous mental health organizations in Texas also have condemned the execution of offenders with severe mental illness.

Previous posts on Marcus Druery are available on the TCADP blog. Read more about the recent ruling in his case from the Eagle.

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21 September 2015 ~ Comments Off on Fifth Circuit to Hold Oral Argument Re: Scott Panetti’s Incompetency for Execution

Fifth Circuit to Hold Oral Argument Re: Scott Panetti’s Incompetency for Execution

On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hold oral argument in the case of Scott Panetti, who has been on Texas’ death row since 1995 and faced several execution dates despite his nearly 40 year documented history of severe mental illness. The Fifth Circuit stayed Panetti’s execution on December 3, 2014 to further review the issues surrounding his competency.

The court will consider Panetti’s motion to reverse a federal district court ruling and return his case to the lower court with orders to appoint counsel, authorize funds for investigative and expert assistance, and provide counsel with adequate time to prepare a habeas corpus petition raising the claim that Panetti is currently incompetent to be executed.

Panetti has not been evaluated by any mental health experts since late 2007 and the last evidentiary hearing held on his competency took place in February 2008. A review of the most recent records shows that he has deteriorated since that time.

An amicus brief submitted earlier this year on behalf of national conservative movement leaders, some who support the death penalty and others who do not, stated they “are united […] in their belief that the execution of Scott Panetti would serve no penological purpose and would in no way promote public safety. Rather than serving as a proportionate response to murder, the execution of Panetti would only undermine the public’s faith in a fair and moral justice system. And it would be a glaring and unwelcome example of excessive governmental power.”

In an opinion editorial published last week in the Dallas Morning News, national conservative leader Richard A. Viguerie, one of the signatories on the amicus brief, decried any attempt to execute Panetti as “a moral failure for conservatives”.  Viguerie writes:

As a conservative, I believe putting Panetti, a severely mentally ill man whose condition has only deteriorated on death row, to death would be senseless. He is not competent to be executed. Instead, he should spend the rest of his days under confinement — a common-sense solution that would keep the public safe and respect human dignity.

Read the full piece here.

An editorial by the Houston Chronicle (“End executions,” September 16, 2015) noted similarities between Panetti’s trial and that of James Calvert, who faces the death penalty in Smith County and who, until last week, had been allowed to represent himself in his trial.  In his trial 20 years ago, Panetti represented himself wearing a cowboy costume and attempted to call over 200 people to the witness stand, including the Pope, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and his own alter ego.  The editorial observes that “Knowing what we know now, it is hard to claim that Panetti received a fair trial or adequate representation.”

Read the full editorial.  You can follow developments in Calvert’s trial on Twitter, using the hashtag #Calvert.

Additional resources and background information

The Amicus Brief from National Conservative Leaders, filed February 4, 2015, can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1zBfmMO

Mr. Panetti’s Supplemental Brief at the Fifth Circuit, filed January 28, 2015, can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1DgPXbM

Mr. Panetti’s Opening Brief at the Fifth Circuit, filed November 30, 2014, can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1yLnj2S

For more information about Mr. Panetti’s case, please go to http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti/

To speak with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service and Greg Wiercioch of Texas Defender Service and University of Wisconsin Law School, or if you would like to speak with mental health and other experts, please contact Laura Burstein at Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com.

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13 May 2015 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas executes Derrick Charles

State of Texas executes Derrick Charles

Last night, the State of Texas carried out its seventh execution of the year, putting Derrick Charles to death for the murders of his 15-year-old girlfriend, Myiesha Bennett, her mother Brenda Bennett, and her grandfather, Obie Lee Bennett in 2002 in Harris County.  Charles was 19 years old at the time.  According to his attorneys with the Texas Defender Service (TDS), he suffered from symptoms of severe mental illness throughout his life.

Here’s a statement from TDS upon learning the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a stay of execution in Derrick Charles’ case.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s response.  Derrick Charles has a lifelong history of severe mental illness.  While the Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the insane – those people without a rational understanding of why they are being executed – it is a hollow promise without resources and evaluation.  Derrick Charles and his deteriorating mental condition deserved that.”

— Paul Mansur, Senior Staff Attorney, Texas Defender Service, Counsel to Derrick Charles

Texas accounts for seven of the fourteen executions that have occurred nationwide to date in 2015. Two individuals are scheduled to be executed in June.

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11 May 2015 ~ Comments Off on State of Texas scheduled to execute Derrick Charles

State of Texas scheduled to execute Derrick Charles

Barring intervention by the courts, Derrick Charles is scheduled to be put to death by the State of Texas tomorrow, Tuesday,  May 12, 2015. He was convicted of killing his 15-year-old girlfriend, Myiesha Bennett, her mother Brenda Bennett, and her grandfather, Obie Lee Bennett in 2002 in Harris County.

Charles was 19 years old at the time.  According to his attorneys with the Texas Defender Service (TDS), he has suffered from symptoms of severe mental illness throughout his life. Here are excerpts from a press release issued today by TDS:

Despite the extensive history of Mr. Charles’ severe mental illness and mental impairments, Texas state and federal courts have refused to authorize the resources Mr. Charles needs to undergo a complete neuropsychological evaluation designed to determine whether he is competent to be executed. Three psychologists have recommended, one as recent as March of this year, that Mr. Charles undergo such an evaluation. Mr. Charles has been deprived of his right to needed resources and time to determine if he is incompetent to be executed. …

Attorneys for Mr. Charles have filed two petitions for certiorari review in the Supreme Court of the United States, urging the Court to provide Mr. Charles’ legal team with both the time and resources to establish that the State of Texas’ execution is contrary to the United States Constitution.

Read more from TDS and from the Austin Chronicle.

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03 December 2014 ~ Comments Off on 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Stays the Execution of Scott Panetti

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Stays the Execution of Scott Panetti

BREAKING: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the execution of Scott Panetti, who had been scheduled for execution in Texas tonight at 6 p.m. CT.

Below is a statement from Mr. Panetti’s legal team, Greg Wiercioch of University of Wisconsin Law School and Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service, followed by background about the case.

“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.”

-Greg Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase, attorneys for Scott Panetti

-December 3, 2014

The Fifth Circuit Stay Order can be accessed here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQU204b1NjVldOc1NJYzBkRkdrUlhKZzBIeWZ3/view?usp=sharing

Mr. Panetti’s Opening Brief at the Fifth Circuit and Request for a Stay of Execution can be accessed here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQNl9DcjR1UDJTLUV0bTg4UmFObl9IaXZfeUxj/view

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQMWVlLUROakRiUkxRRVZDaXNKMzBwazZXUmFJ/view

CASE BACKGROUND

Three-Decade History of Severe Psychosis and Delusions

Mr. Panetti has suffered from extreme mental illness for over 30 years. He was hospitalized a dozen times for psychosis and delusions in the six years leading up to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

The first time Mr. Panetti showed signs of being afflicted with a psychotic disorder was in 1978, over 14 years before the crime. During his multiple hospitalizations, doctors diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder and proscribed antipsychotic medication.

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.

Two years before the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death, Mr. Panetti was involuntarily committed for homicidal behavior and was found to be suffering from delusions and psychotic religiosity.

The crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death also had the hallmarks of a severely disturbed mind. While off his antipsychotic medication, Mr. Panetti shaved his head and dressed in camouflage fatigues before going to his in-laws’ home and committing the offense for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Detailed information about Mr. Panetti’s medical history can be found in this 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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7c3kzWW5nRFBib1U/view?usp=sharing

Mr. Panetti’s Trial: ‘A Miserable Spectacle’

Despite being a paranoid schizophrenic, Mr. Panetti represented himself at his capital murder trial in 1995. Wearing a cowboy costume with a purple bandana and attempting to call over 200 people to the witness stand, including the Pope, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and his own alter ego, Mr. Panetti was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Mr. Panetti’s statements in court, at both the guilt and sentencing phase, were bizarre and incomprehensible. He took the witnesses stand and testified about his own life in excessive and irrelevant detail.

Mr. Panetti announced that he would assume the personality of “Sarge” and recounted the gruesome details of the crime in the third person. He gestured as if pointing a rifle to the jury box (visibly upsetting the jurors) and matter- of-factly imitated the sound of shots being fired.

Fixed Delusion that Texas is Trying to Kill Him for Preaching the Gospel

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.

If his execution date is not withdrawn, he will go to the execution chamber convinced that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife’s parents, and the retributive goal of capital punishment will not be served.

Widespread Support for Clemency

On November 12, 2014, Mr. Panetti’s attorneys filed a clemency petition with Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles along with letters supporting clemency from the leading Texas and national mental health organizations and professionals such as the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America and Disability Rights Texas; criminal justice and legal professionals including former Texas Governor Mark White, state Attorneys General and former judges and prosecutors; 55 Evangelical leaders from Texas and nationally and 7 retired and active Bishops from the United Methodist Church and other faith leaders; Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and the American Bar Association, among others.

On November 18, 2014, worldwide support for Scott Panetti reached a groundswell with new calls for clemency from prominent individuals and organizations from across Texas and the world, including the nation’s largest grassroots advocacy organization on mental illness, National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); NAMI’s Texas affiliate; ten legislators from Texas; former U.S. Representative Ron Paul; several more Evangelical Christians; and the European Union, which represents twenty-eight nations.

The clemency petition can be accessed through Texas Defender Service’s web page on the case: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti/

To access the letters supporting clemency, additional legal documents and other case resources, including a video, please go to: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti.

Additionally, a petition started by Mr. Panetti’s sister, Vicki Panetti, has been signed by over 95,000 concerned individuals. https://www.change.org/p/gov-rick-perry-spare-my-brother-s-life-a-severely-mentally-ill-man-on-death-row

To speak with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service and Greg Wiercioch of Texas Defender Service and University of Wisconsin Law School, or if you would like to speak with mental health and other experts, please contact Laura Burstein, Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c).

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01 December 2014 ~ Comments Off on Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejects clemency for Scott Panetti

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejects clemency for Scott Panetti

Breaking: This afternoon, despite widespread support from the country’s and Texas’ leading mental health organizations, dozens of conservative and Evangelical leaders, the American Bar Association and hundreds of other prominent individuals and organizations, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted, 7-0, to deny a commutation recommendation for Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia for over thirty years.

Mr. Panetti is scheduled for execution on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Central time. He has not had a competency hearing in nearly seven years. Mr. Panetti’s attorneys have petitions pending at the Fifth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court.

This afternoon, Mr. Panetti’s attorneys filed a Reprieve letter with Governor Rick Perry asking that he use his executive authority to issue a 30-day stay of execution in order for Mr. Panetti to have a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate that he is not competent for execution.

The letter to Gov. Perry can be accessed here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQTUY2ZmdJdk1sckcwVUczRTFqVU14LWplc2FJ/view?usp=sharing

Below is a statement from Kathryn Kase, Mr. Panetti’s co-counsel, followed by background about the case.

Statement from Kathryn Kase, Attorney For Scott Panetti, In Response to Denial by Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles

“Mr. Panetti is a sick man who has suffered from schizophrenia, an incurable mental illness, for over thirty years, including prior to and during the crime, and during his trial at which he represented himself in a floridly psychotic state. Widespread and diverse voices agree that Mr. Panetti’s execution would cross a moral line and serve no retributive or deterrent value, including national and Texas leaders in mental health, leading conservative, libertarian and evangelical Christian voices, former judges and prosecutors, legislators, Governors and attorneys general and many more. Despite the Board’s short-sighted recommendation today, there is still time for Governor Perry to issue a 30-day reprieve in order to evaluate Mr. Panetti’s competency to be executed, which has not been assessed in over seven years.

“Today we sent the Governor a letter regarding the ongoing deterioration of Mr. Panetti’s condition based on our visits in the last three weeks. We also raised the issue that the District Attorney failed to notify us that the warrant was issued and we lost fourteen critical days when we could have been working on the case, only learning a date had been set through media rather than official channels.  We urge the Governor to use his executive power to grant a stay in order to examine Mr. Panetti’s competency for execution. There is still time to stop this unconscionable execution of a severely mentally ill man who would die without comprehending what his death means.”

-Kathryn Kase, attorney for Scott Panetti and Executive Director of Texas Defender Service

-December 1, 2014

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denial can be accessed here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQTkxvNks3SnZYRERnUllNeDFWMGlaOXNUbGhz/view?usp=sharing

CASE BACKGROUND:

 

Three-Decade History of Severe Psychosis and Delusions

Mr. Panetti has suffered from extreme mental illness for over 30 years. He was hospitalized a dozen times for psychosis and delusions in the six years leading up to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

The first time Mr. Panetti showed signs of being afflicted with a psychotic disorder was in 1978, over 14 years before the crime. During his multiple hospitalizations, doctors diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder and proscribed antipsychotic medication.

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.

Two years before the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death, Mr. Panetti was involuntarily committed for homicidal behavior and was found to be suffering from delusions and psychotic religiosity.

The crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death also had the hallmarks of a severely disturbed mind. While off his antipsychotic medication, Mr. Panetti shaved his head and dressed in camouflage fatigues before going to his in-laws’ home and committing the offense for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Detailed information about Mr. Panetti’s medical history can be found in this 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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7c3kzWW5nRFBib1U/view?usp=sharing

Mr. Panetti’s Trial: ‘A Miserable Spectacle’

Despite being a paranoid schizophrenic, Mr. Panetti represented himself at his capital murder trial in 1995. Wearing a cowboy costume with a purple bandana and attempting to call over 200 people to the witness stand, including the Pope, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and his own alter ego, Mr. Panetti was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Mr. Panetti’s statements in court, at both the guilt and sentencing phase, were bizarre and incomprehensible. He took the witnesses stand and testified about his own life in excessive and irrelevant detail.

Mr. Panetti announced that he would assume the personality of “Sarge” and recounted the gruesome details of the crime in the third person. He gestured as if pointing a rifle to the jury box (visibly upsetting the jurors) and matter- of-factly imitated the sound of shots being fired.

Fixed Delusion that Texas is Trying to Kill Him for Preaching the Gospel

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.

If his execution date is not withdrawn, he will go to the execution chamber convinced that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife’s parents, and the retributive goal of capital punishment will not be served.

Emerging Consensus Against the Imposition of the Death Penalty Against the Severely Mentally Ill

Citing trends which demonstrate an emerging consensus against the use of capital punishment against people with severe mental illness, attorneys for Mr. Panetti today filed for a stay of execution at the U.S. Supreme Court, with a petition for a writ of certiorari challenging the constitutionality of Mr. Panetti’s execution. Mr. Panetti was diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder decades before the crime for which he is scheduled to be executed this Wednesday.

Today’s cert petition argues that the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment includes a prohibition on executing persons with severe mental illness, like Mr. Panetti.

Today’s Petition for a Writ of Certiorari can be accessed here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7Y2RPalhCS1BVazBlU0VoRExYUjNQckNFZHZB/view?usp=sharing

Today’s Motion for a Stay of Execution can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7Umxlc3BEWmV1bzNSYXExRXZPc0dOdG9CWUhF/view?usp=sharing

A new nationwide poll, released today, states that American oppose the execution of the mentally ill by a 2-1 margin: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7R3dCM2VJbTJiTjVYVDVodjVVSTNJbHgxZWlB/view

On November 26th, three judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote powerful dissents in favor of relief in the case, including Judge Tom Price who stated: “I would grant applicant’s motion for a stay of execution and would hold that his severe mental illness renders him categorically ineligible for the death penalty under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“It is inconceivable to me how the execution of a severely mentally ill person such as applicant would measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes purportedly served by the death penalty.

“I can imagine no rational reason for carving a line between the prohibition on the execution of a mentally retarded person or an insane person while permitting the execution of a severely mentally ill person. At a minimum, therefore, I would hold that the execution of a severely mentally ill person violates the Eighth Amendment of the federal Constitution.”

Judge Elsa Alcala, joined by Judge Cheryl Johnson found that Mr. Panetti had raised a “compelling argument” that the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of the seriously mentally ill and that the majority had not given “greater consideration” to his argument. They would have stayed Mr. Panetti’s execution and permitted further briefing of the Eighth Amendment issue.

The CCA Order and Dissents can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQa1czZHZmNHk0SXlVU3pKZkpnd0pId1owRnVB/view?usp=sharing

Citing new research, the cert petition argues that actual sentencing practices reveal an emerging consensus against use of the death penalty in cases where the defendant has severe mental illness. The new research, which examines the capital sentencing practices of 7 states, finds that “ death sentences were imposed in only 5 of 68 cases, a capital sentencing rate of 7.35%.” (p. 29)

Furthermore, “the last time a defendant adjudicated GBMI [guilty but mentally ill] was sentenced to death was at least 20 years ago,” (p. 30).

As the petition states, “The infrequency with which the death penalty is imposed on the class of death-eligible mentally ill defendants…demonstrates that a consensus has emerged against the imposition of the death penalty on mentally ill defendants.” (p. 31)

Other objective factors that demonstrate the national consensus against the death penalty for people with severe mental illness include the opinion of mental health professionals, and “[n]early every major mental health association in the United States …  has issued policy statements recommending an outright ban on the death penalty for offenders with severe mental brain damage (dementia and traumatic brain injury) and a ban on the death penalty or offenders with severe mental illness whose condition diminished their responsibility for their crimes.” (pp. 31-32)

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), NAMI’s Texas affiliate, the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America, Disability Rights Texas, dozens of other mental health experts and the American Bar Association, which in 2006 approved a resolution urging preclusion of the death penalty for those who were mentally ill at the time of their crimes, are actively urging officials in Texas to stop Mr. Panetti’s execution.

The petition notes that “[i]mposition of the death penalty on people with severe mental illness, as with people with intellectual disability [who are protected from the death penalty], does not serve the two goals of deterrence and retribution because of their reduced moral culpability.” (p. 35)

Furthermore, the petition notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has “expressed concern that the cognitive limitations of the intellectually disabled, as manifested in a trial setting, may lead to the death penalty being ‘imposed in spite of factors which may call for a less severe penalty,'” (p. 36) including a greater chance of false confessions, the decreased ability of defendants with severe mental illness to meaningfully assist counsel, being problematic witnesses and the fact that their demeanor can create an impression of lack of remorse. According to the petition, “these very same factors – also present among the population of the severely mentally ill – may also result in the death penalty being imposed upon a severely mentally ill defendant despite the presence of other mitigating factors that call for a less severe penalty.” (p. 37)

This was certainly the case with Mr. Panetti who “displayed ‘bizarre, and ‘scary’ behavior throughout his trial. He asked nonsensical questions about Native Americans…and flipped a coin to decide whether to strike a potential juror.” (p. 37)

During the punishment phase, Mr. Panetti called only one witness, his standby counsel, before delivering an unintelligible punishment phase closing argument:

“You know, just to touch on the spat and wasn’t cuffed, but I was bronc and Sheriff Kaiser and I had a talk, well, of the fact that I’m no longer American citizen, and because of my buckaroo case.  I believe city people love horses, too, and I don’t consider myself anything above or below anyone, but I do consider myself me, and when I made my last confession at Veterans Hospital to Father De la Garza, I wasn’t Catholic.” (p. 21)

Widespread Support for Clemency

On November 12, 2014, Mr. Panetti’s attorneys filed a clemency petition with Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles along with letters supporting clemency from the leading Texas and national mental health organizations and professionals such as the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America and Disability Rights Texas; criminal justice and legal professionals including former Texas Governor Mark White,state Attorneys General and former judges and prosecutors; 55 Evangelical leaders from Texas and nationally and 7 retired and active Bishops from the United Methodist Church and other faith leaders; Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and the American Bar Association, among others.

On November 18, 2014, worldwide support for Scott Panetti reached a groundswell with new calls for clemency from prominent individuals and organizations from across Texas and the world, including the nation’s largest grassroots advocacy organization on mental illness, National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); NAMI’s Texas affiliate; ten legislators from Texas; former U.S. Representative Ron Paul; several more Evangelical Christians; and theEuropean Union, which represents twenty-eight nations.

Also today, over a dozen national leaders of the conservative movement sent a letter asking Governor Perry to commute the death sentence of Mr. Panetti to a life sentence if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends it: http://www.constitutionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Panetti-clemency-letter-Nolan.pdf

The clemency petition can be accessed through Texas Defender Service’s web page on the case: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti/

To access the letters supporting clemency, additional legal documents and other case resources, including a video, please go to: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti.

Additionally, a petition started by Mr. Panetti’s sister, Vicki Panetti, has been signed by over 88,000 concerned individuals. https://www.change.org/p/gov-rick-perry-spare-my-brother-s-life-a-severely-mentally-ill-man-on-death-row

To speak with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service and Greg Wiercioch of Texas Defender Service and University of Wisconsin Law School, or if you would like to speak with mental health and other experts, please contact Laura Burstein at Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com or 202-626-6868 (o) or 202-669-3411 (c).

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01 December 2014 ~ Comments Off on Attorneys for Scott Panetti appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

Attorneys for Scott Panetti appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

For Immediate Release: December 1, 2014

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

Schizophrenic TX Death Row Prisoner Appeals Constitutionality of Scheduled December 3rd Execution to the U.S. Supreme Court

Cites New Evidence of Emerging Consensus: Executing the Severely Mentally Ill Violates the Eighth Amendment’s Protection From Cruel and Unusual Punishment

(Washington, DC, December 1, 2014) Citing trends which demonstrate an emerging consensus against the use of capital punishment against people with severe mental illness, attorneys for Mr. Panetti today filed for a stay of execution at the U.S. Supreme Court, with a petition for a writ of certiorari challenging the constitutionality of Mr. Panetti’s execution. Mr. Panetti was diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder decades before the crime for which he is scheduled to be executed this Wednesday, December 3rd, in Texas.

Today’s cert petition argues that the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment includes a prohibition on executing persons with severe mental illness, like Mr. Panetti.

Today’s Petition for a Writ of Certiorari can be accessed here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7Y2RPalhCS1BVazBlU0VoRExYUjNQckNFZHZB/view?usp=sharing

Today’s Motion for a Stay of Execution can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7Umxlc3BEWmV1bzNSYXExRXZPc0dOdG9CWUhF/view?usp=sharing

Also today, attorneys filed an Original Writ for Habeas Corpus, which can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7b010WkQzOGM5S1I4OEl4d1d0VGR6N1hZQUlF/view?usp=sharing

Despite being a paranoid schizophrenic, Mr. Panetti represented himself at his capital murder trial in 1995. Wearing a Tom Mix-style cowboy costume with a purple bandana and attempting to call over 200 people to the witness stand, including the Pope, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and his own alter ego, “Sarge,” Mr. Panetti was found guilty and sentenced to death.

“Mr. Panetti is a very sick man who has had schizophrenia for decades,” said Kathryn Kase, co-counsel for Mr Panetti, and Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service. “Mr. Panetti’s severe mental illness has caused concern among numerous judges who issued multiple powerful dissents last week and has galvanized extensive support for relief in his case from the mental health community. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America, Disability Rights Texas and many others have expressed that no retributive or deterrent value is achieved by carrying out lethal injection against a man as sick as Scott Panetti. The widespread support for relief in this case includes not only the mental health community but also leading legal organizations, and others, and is supported by new information regarding sentencing practices, which clearly show a trend against using the death penalty when defendants have severe mental illness, as well as the universal opinion of mental health experts and polling data.”

A new nationwide poll, released today, states that American oppose the execution of the mentally ill by a 2-1 margin: (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7RDJBZzA2NGJzWG8/view)

On November 26th, three judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote powerful dissents in favor of relief in the case, including Judge Tom Price who stated: “I would grant applicant’s motion for a stay of execution and would hold that his severe mental illness renders him categorically ineligible for the death penalty under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“It is inconceivable to me how the execution of a severely mentally ill person such as applicant would measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes purportedly served by the death penalty.

“I can imagine no rational reason for carving a line between the prohibition on the execution of a mentally retarded person or an insane person while permitting the execution of a severely mentally ill person. At a minimum, therefore, I would hold that the execution of a severely mentally ill person violates the Eighth Amendment of the federal Constitution.”

Judge Elsa Alcala, joined by Judge Cheryl Johnson found that Mr. Panetti had raised a “compelling argument” that the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of the seriously mentally ill and that the majority had not given “greater consideration” to his argument. They would have stayed Mr. Panetti’s execution and permitted further briefing of the Eighth Amendment issue.

The CCA Order and Dissents can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQa1czZHZmNHk0SXlVU3pKZkpnd0pId1owRnVB/view?usp=sharing

Citing new research, the cert petition argues that actual sentencing practices reveal an emerging consensus against use of the death penalty in cases where the defendant has severe mental illness. The new research, which examines the capital sentencing practices of 7 states, finds that “ death sentences were imposed in only 5 of 68 cases, a capital sentencing rate of 7.35%.” (p. 29)

Furthermore, “the last time a defendant adjudicated GBMI [guilty but mentally ill] was sentenced to death was at least 20 years ago,” (p. 30).

As the petition states, “The infrequency with which the death penalty is imposed on the class of death-eligible mentally ill defendants…demonstrates that a consensus has emerged against the imposition of the death penalty on mentally ill defendants.” (p. 31)

Other objective factors that demonstrate the national consensus against the death penalty for people with severe mental illness include the opinion of mental health professionals, and “[n]early every major mental health association in the United States …  has issued policy statements recommending an outright ban on the death penalty for offenders with severe mental brain damage (dementia and traumatic brain injury) and a ban on the death penalty or offenders with severe mental illness whose condition diminished their responsibility for their crimes.” (pp. 31-32)

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), NAMI’s Texas affiliate, the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America, Disability Rights Texas, dozens of other mental health experts and the American Bar Association, which in 2006 approved a resolution urging preclusion of the death penalty for those who were mentally ill at the time of their crimes, are actively urging officials in Texas to stop Mr. Panetti’s execution.

The petition notes that “[i]mposition of the death penalty on people with severe mental illness, as with people with intellectual disability [who are protected from the death penalty], does not serve the two goals of deterrence and retribution because of their reduced moral culpability.” (p. 35)

Furthermore, the petition notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has “expressed concern that the cognitive limitations of the intellectually disabled, as manifested in a trial setting, may lead to the death penalty being ‘imposed in spite of factors which may call for a less severe penalty,'” (p. 36) including a greater chance of false confessions, the decreased ability of defendants with severe mental illness to meaningfully assist counsel, being problematic witnesses and the fact that their demeanor can create an impression of lack of remorse. According to the petition, “these very same factors – also present among the population of the severely mentally ill – may also result in the death penalty being imposed upon a severely mentally ill defendant despite the presence of other mitigating factors that call for a less severe penalty.” (p. 37)

This was certainly the case with Mr. Panetti who “displayed ‘bizarre, and ‘scary’ behavior throughout his trial. He asked nonsensical questions about Native Americans…and flipped a coin to decide whether to strike a potential juror.” (p. 37)

During the punishment phase, Mr. Panetti called only one witness, his standby counsel, before delivering an unintelligible punishment phase closing argument:

“You know, just to touch on the spat and wasn’t cuffed, but I was bronc and Sheriff Kaiser and I had a talk, well, of the fact that I’m no longer American citizen, and because of my buckaroo case.  I believe city people love horses, too, and I don’t consider myself anything above or below anyone, but I do consider myself me, and when I made my last confession at Veterans Hospital to Father De la Garza, I wasn’t Catholic.” (p. 21)

CASE BACKGROUND: 

Three-Decade History of Severe Psychosis and Delusions

Mr. Panetti has suffered from extreme mental illness for over 30 years. He was hospitalized a dozen times for psychosis and delusions in the six years leading up to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

The first time Mr. Panetti showed signs of being afflicted with a psychotic disorder was in 1978, over 14 years before the crime. During his multiple hospitalizations, doctors diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder and proscribed antipsychotic medication.

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.

Two years before the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death, Mr. Panetti was involuntarily committed for homicidal behavior and was found to be suffering from delusions and psychotic religiosity.

The crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death also had the hallmarks of a severely disturbed mind. While off his antipsychotic medication, Mr. Panetti shaved his head and dressed in camouflage fatigues before going to his in-laws’ home and committing the offense for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Detailed information about Mr. Panetti’s medical history can be found in this 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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7c3kzWW5nRFBib1U/view?usp=sharing

Mr. Panetti’s Trial: ‘A Miserable Spectacle’

Despite being a paranoid schizophrenic, Mr. Panetti represented himself at his capital murder trial in 1995. Wearing a cowboy costume with a purple bandana and attempting to call over 200 people to the witness stand, including the Pope, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and his own alter ego, Mr. Panetti was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Mr. Panetti’s statements in court, at both the guilt and sentencing phase, were bizarre and incomprehensible. He took the witnesses stand and testified about his own life in excessive and irrelevant detail.

Mr. Panetti announced that he would assume the personality of “Sarge” and recounted the gruesome details of the crime in the third person. He gestured as if pointing a rifle to the jury box (visibly upsetting the jurors) and matter- of-factly imitated the sound of shots being fired.

Fixed Delusion that Texas is Trying to Kill Him for Preaching the Gospel

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.

If his execution date is not withdrawn, he will go to the execution chamber convinced that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife’s parents, and the retributive goal of capital punishment will not be served.

Widespread Support for Clemency

On November 12, 2014, Mr. Panetti’s attorneys filed a clemency petition with Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles along with letters supporting clemency from the leading Texas and national mental health organizations and professionals such as the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America and Disability Rights Texas; criminal justice and legal professionals including former Texas Governor Mark White, state Attorneys General and former judges and prosecutors; 55 Evangelical leaders from Texas and nationally and 7 retired and active Bishops from the United Methodist Church and other faith leaders; Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and the American Bar Association, among others.

On November 18, 2014, worldwide support for Scott Panetti reached a groundswell with new calls for clemency from prominent individuals and organizations from across Texas and the world, including the nation’s largest grassroots advocacy organization on mental illness, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); NAMI’s Texas affiliate; ten legislators from Texas; former U.S. Representative Ron Paul; several more Evangelical Christians; and the European Union, which represents twenty-eight nations.

The clemency petition can be accessed through Texas Defender Service’s web page on the case: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti/

To access the letters supporting clemency, additional legal documents and other case resources, including a video, please go to: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti.

Additionally, a petition started by Mr. Panetti’s sister, Vicki Panetti, has been signed by over 90,000 concerned individuals. https://www.change.org/p/gov-rick-perry-spare-my-brother-s-life-a-severely-mentally-ill-man-on-death-row

To speak with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service and Greg Wiercioch of Texas Defender Service and University of Wisconsin Law School, or if you would like to speak with mental health and other experts, please contact Laura Burstein, Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c).

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01 December 2014 ~ Comments Off on New Poll: Americans Opposed to Death Penalty for People with Mental Illness

New Poll: Americans Opposed to Death Penalty for People with Mental Illness

For Immediate Release: December 1, 2014
Contact: 
Laura Burstein, 202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c)
Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com
For More Information: www.texasdefender.org/scott-panetti

New Nationwide Poll Shows Americans Oppose Death Penalty in Cases where Person has Mental Illness By 2-1 Margin

Scott Panetti, a Schizophrenic Man, Scheduled for Execution this Wednesday in Texas; Today’s Poll Adds to Emerging National Consensus Against Executions in Cases Like Scott Panetti’s

(Chapel Hill, NC, December 1, 2014) A new poll by Public Policy Polling released today found that Americans oppose the death penalty for persons with mental illness by a margin of 2 to 1. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they opposed the death penalty for persons with mental illness, while only 28% favored it. Opposition was consistent across all political parties, with a majority of Democrats (62%), Republicans (59%), and Independents(51%) all indicating they opposed the death penalty for the mentally ill, and across all regions of the country. Respondents from the Midwest showed the strongest opposition with 64% saying they opposed the death penalty for the mentally ill, followed by the West with 61% opposed, and the South and Northeast–both with 55% opposed.

The new poll can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7R3dCM2VJbTJiTjVYVDVodjVVSTNJbHgxZWlB/view?usp=sharing

Opposition to the death penalty for persons with mental illness was also strong across both genders, and all income and education levels.

The survey of 943 registered voters was conducted on November 24-25, 2014 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1.  The survey was commissioned by Robert Smith, an assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Today’s important polling is part of significant new research which clearly shows an emerging consensus against using capital punishment in cases where the defendant is mentally ill,” said Professor Smith. “The poll joins other new data demonstrating that sentencing trends are down across the country for death-eligible defendants with severe mental illness. Combining this public polling, sentencing practices, and the recommendations of the mental health medical community, it’s clear that a consensus is emerging against the execution of a person like Scott Panetti, who suffers from a debilitating illness which is similar to intellectual disability in that it lessens both his culpability and arguable social value of his execution.”

Mr. Panetti, who has been diagnosed with both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder for over three decades, was permitted to represent himself at his capital trial in Kerrville, TX in 1995. Acting as his own counsel, Mr. Panetti appeared at his capital trial in a cowboy costume and attempted to call over 200 witnesses, including living and dead celebrities, to the stand. He declined to accept a plea deal that would have spared his life, and was sentenced to death. Mr. Panetti is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, December 3rd at 6 p.m. Central time.

In Mr. Panetti’s most recent habeas petition, which was denied on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 in a split decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQRWZpbWdQZkV3d0xRTFI2RWE3M21WZXcyYlQ0/view), attorneys cited new research from a forthcoming empirical study that actual sentencing practices reveal an emerging consensus against use of the death penalty in cases where the defendant has severe mental illness. The new research, which examines the capital sentencing practices of 7 states, finds that only “5 out of 68, or 7.35% of defendants found [guilty but mentally ill] have been sentenced to death.”  (p. 45)

Furthermore, “the most recent instance in which a defendant found [guilty but mentally ill] was sentenced to death took place at least 20 years ago,” and none of those defendants has been executed. (pp. 45-46)

For more information about today’s poll or if you would like to speak with Professor Smith or the attorneys representing Scott Panetti, please contact Laura Burstein at: Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com or 202-626-6868 (o) and 202-669-3411 (c).

For more information about the Scott Panetti case: www.texasdefender.org/scott-panetti

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