Scott Panetti case to be heard at U.S. Supreme Court

Today, April 18, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case Panetti vs. Quarterman. This case concerns Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti, who has a long, documented history of severe mental illness and has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Despite evidence of his mental illness – including more than a dozen hospitalizations – he was allowed to defend himself at trial, during which he sought to include testimony from John F. Kennedy and the Pope. Panetti was convicted of killing his wife’s parents and sentenced to death in 1995.

The Court will consider whether the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution “of a death row inmate who has a factual awareness of the reason for his execution but who, because of severe mental illness, has a delusional belief as to why the state is executing him, and thus does not appreciate that his execution is intended to seek retribution for his capital crime.” While aware that he is to be executed, Panetti does not connect his punishment with his crime but rather believes that the State of Texas is in league with the forces of evil and seeks to execute him in order to prevent him from preaching the Gospel.

The execution of Scott Panetti would clearly violate the intention of Ford v. Wainwright, the 1986 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the execution of the insane. In its interpretation of the Ford standard, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has required only a “bare factual awareness” which allows the insane to be executed in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit has so narrowly interpreted Ford that it has yet to find over the past two decades a single death row inmate incompetent to execute.

Listen to a NPR story on Morning Edition:

Download a transcript of oral arguments later this afternoon at:

More media coverage is available at