The Execution of Severely Mentally Ill Scott Panetti Would Cross a Moral Line
Today, an Emergency Motion for Hearing was filed in state court by attorneys for Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man scheduled for execution in Texas on December 3, 2014, asking the State withdraw or modify the execution date so that Mr. Panetti is given a meaningful opportunity to contest his competency for execution. Mr. Panetti has not had a competency hearing in nearly seven years.
Astonishingly, it is noted in the Motion that Mr. Panetti’s attorneys learned of the execution date from the newspaper on October 30th — two weeks after the date was set, apparently in secret, with no notice whatsoever to the lawyers who have represented Mr. Panetti for nearly a decade.
“The State has an unequivocal, constitutional duty in every case to pursue justice — not a conviction, not an execution, not a win at all costs. By not informing attorneys that an execution date had been set, the State has fallen woefully short of that duty in Scott Panetti’s case,” said Greg Wiercioch, counsel of record for Mr. Panetti. “The State’s conduct would be disturbing if this were a routine case. But it is unconscionable in a death penalty case where the District Attorney himself did not believe Scott Panetti was competent to represent himself at trial,” said Mr. Wiercioch.
The Motion, filed in trial court in Kerrville, Texas, can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/
The Motion states, “[t]here can be no serious dispute that, because of Mr. Panetti’s long-standing and incurable psychotic disorder, he meets the threshold showing that entitles him to the appointment of two experts and an evidentiary hearing under Article 46.05 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,’ and that “[t]he U. S. Supreme Court held – in Mr. Panetti’s own case – that the procedure for determining a prisoner’s competency for execution must comport with due process under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.” (page 2)
“Mr. Panetti’s severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case. His execution now would cross a moral line and serve no penological purpose. It is reasonable and necessary for a competency hearing to take place before the State wrongly executes someone who is clearly incompetent for execution,” said Kathryn Kase, co-counsel for Mr. Panetti.
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 in 1992, 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.
Mr. Panetti’s Trial: ‘A Miserable Spectacle’
While representing himself at trial in 1995, Mr. Panetti sought over 200 subpoenas, including ones for John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. He wore a TV-Western cowboy costume and a purple bandana.
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
Mr. Panetti 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.
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.
Prominent mental health organizations and professionals have said Mr. Panetti’s execution would be “a miserable spectacle”: https://drive.google.com/file/
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).