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).