Attorneys for Scott Panetti Ask Court to Stay Execution for First Competency Hearing in Nearly Seven Years
Widespread Opposition to Execution of Man with Schizophrenia who Believes Texas Wants to Execute Him for Preaching the Gospel
Today, attorneys for Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia for over thirty years, and whose case has elicited widespread support for a stay of execution, have filed a new Motion in the 216th District Court in Kerrville, Texas, which seeks to stay or modify Mr. Panetti’s scheduled December 3rd execution date in order to assess Mr. Panetti’s competency to be executed. Mr. Panetti has not had a competency hearing in nearly seven years.
Today’s Motion includes new information from incomplete records received by Mr. Panetti’s counsel over the last week from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and a visit last week by counsel with Mr. Panetti.
The newly released TDCJ records reveal that “mental health treatment professionals and correctional officers have noted alarming and aberrational changes in Mr. Panetti’s behavior over the last two years.” (p. 4) The Motion provides details on how Mr. Panetti believes he is “hearing voices” and has a “listening device implanted in his tooth.” He said he was being executed “because TDCJ wants him to ‘shut up’ about the corruption and to stop him from preaching the Gospel.” (pp. 13-16)
Based on this new information, the Motion states “counsel can now make a colorable showing that Mr. Panetti is presently incompetent to be executed under Ford v. Wainwright (1986) and Panetti v. Quarterman (2007)…[that] warrant[s] a fuller exploration by the Court.” (p. 2)
The Motion can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7NTFwUWJSYXNablZDcnBvdzFTQUhGTWxfczJR/view?usp=sharing
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; over 50 Evangelical leaders from Texas and nationally and 6 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.
The clemency petition can be accessed through Texas Defender Service’s web page on the case: http://texasdefender.org/scott-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, 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.
To access the letters supporting clemency, additional legal documents and other case resources, including a video, please go to: texasdefender.org/scott-panetti.
To speak with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Greg Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service, 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).