incompetency Panetti severe mental illness U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit

5th Circuit Deems Scott Panetti Competent for Execution

This week, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti is competent to be executed.  Panetti was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of his in-laws, Joe and Amanda Alvarado.  Kerr County District Judge Stephen Ables allowed Panetti to represent himself despite his long, documented history of paranoid schizophrenia and frequent hospitalizations.

Read a statement from Panetti’s attorney, Kathryn Kase, in response to the 5th Circuit’s ruling.

On June 28, 2007, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of  Panetti and blocked his scheduled execution. The court questioned the value of executing someone who does not comprehend why he is being put to death – Panetti believes that the state intends to execute him in order to prevent him from preaching the gospel in prison.

The Justices found that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals used “an improperly restrictive test” in deciding that Panetti was competent to be executed. The 5th Circuit had said that it did not matter what Panetti believed as long as he could acknowledge the murders as well as the stated purpose of his execution.  The Supreme Court decision sent the case back to a federal district judge, who held a hearing as to whether Panetti’s delusions are indeed so severe that he cannot make the connection between his crime and punishment and should be spared from execution.

Read more about that hearing and the 5th Circuit’s ruling from the Austin Chronicle.

The 5th Circuit, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent to be executed.  At this time, Panetti does not have an execution date.

Watch a short film about Scott Panetti to learn more about his case and the toll it has taken on his family.