incompetency Panetti severe mental illness

Attorneys for Scott Panetti appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Just In: Following a denial in district court, attorneys for Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia for over thirty years, asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to stay his imminent execution to allow for a meaningful opportunity to assess his competency for execution. Mr. Panetti is scheduled for execution on December 3rdbut he has not had a competency hearing in nearly seven years.

Today’s appeal argues that based on incomplete records recently obtained by Mr. Panetti’s counsel and a recent visit by counsel with Mr. Panetti, Mr. Panetti’s condition has deteriorated. Mr. Panetti is hearing voices, believes that a listening device has been implanted in his tooth and that TDCJ wants him to ‘shut up’ about corruption on death row and to stop him from preaching the Gospel.

Mr. Panetti’s attorneys say that this new information provides sufficient evidence that Mr. Panetti can make a showing that he is not competent for execution and that he is therefore entitled to appointed counsel, funding for a mental health expert and investigator, and a stay of execution so that he can prepare an adequate motion under Art. 46.05 raising his competency for execution claim.

Today’s Opening CCA Appeal Brief:

Today’s CCA Motion for Stay of Execution:

The brief states:

“In denying Scott Panetti’s request for a stay of execution, assistance of counsel, and funding for a mental health expert and investigator, the trial court made precisely the same mistake that Judge Stephen B. Ables made in this case over a decade ago – a mistake that, the United States Supreme Court held, violated bedrock principles

of due process. In Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007), the Supreme Court reached two conclusions that squarely address the issue this Court now faces. First, the Supreme Court found that the preliminary showing of incompetency dictated by Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), is neither onerous nor requires an inmate to

present evidence that answers the Ford inquiries. Instead, the inmate need only make a sufficient showing of possible merit to warrant a more thorough exploration by the court. Second, the Supreme Court confirmed that, once an inmate has made this preliminary showing, the Due Process Clause and the Eighth Amendment require the court to give the inmate the tools needed to meaningful develop and present evidence of incompetency. Panetti, 551 U.S. at 952.”

“It is a bitter twist that the trial court is again depriving Mr. Panetti of the due process rights the Supreme Court announced in this very case seven years ago.”

“Mr. Panetti made the preliminary showing that triggers the due process protections of Ford and Panetti. Without first being afforded that rudimentary due process, Mr. Panetti cannot make the requisite Article 46.05 showing. Accordingly, this Court should conclude that Mr. Panetti is constitutionally entitled to a stay of execution, the appointment of counsel, and funding to retain a mental health expert and an investigator to assist him in preparing his Article 46.05 motion.” (pp. 36-38)

Below is a statement from Kathryn Kase, attorney for Mr. Panetti, in response to yesterday’s denial followed by background about the case.

Statement from Kathryn Kase, Attorney For Scott Panetti, In Response to Wednesday’s Denial of Stay of Execution 

“Mr. Panetti, who has been a paranoid schizophrenic for over thirty years, has deteriorated in the last several years. If there is to be any legitimacy to the capital punishment process in this troubling case, it is essential to conduct a hearing on whether or not Mr. Panetti is competent to be executed prior to carrying out his execution. As an obviously severely mentally ill man with schizophrenia, Mr. Panetti should never have been allowed to represent himself in his death penalty case. Mr. Panetti should not have been allowed to reject a plea deal that would have saved his life. Now, Mr. Panetti must not be executed without a competency hearing. This is the last chance to prevent an injustice from turning into an immoral tragedy.”

Kathryn Kase, attorney for Scott Panetti and Executive Director of Texas Defender Service

November 19, 2014

Judge Williams’ Order can be accessed here:


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:

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.

Widespread Support for Clemency

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 AssociationMental Health America and Disability Rights Texas; criminal justice and legal professionals including former Texas Governor Mark Whitestate Attorneys General and former judges and prosecutors55 Evangelical leaders from Texas and nationally and 7 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.

On November 18, 2014, worldwide support for Scott Panetti reached a groundswell with new calls for clemency from prominent individuals and organizations from across Texas and the world, including the nation’s largest grassroots advocacy organization on mental illness, National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); NAMI’s Texasaffiliate; ten legislators from Texas; former U.S. Representative Ron Paul; several more Evangelical Christians; and the European Union, which represents twenty-eight nations.

The clemency petition can be accessed through Texas Defender Service’s web page on the case:

To access the letters supporting clemency, additional legal documents and other case resources, including a video, please go to:

To speak with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service and Greg Wiercioch of Texas Defender Service and University of Wisconsin Law School, or if you would like to speak with mental health and other experts, please contact Laura Burstein at or 202-626-6868 (o) or 202-669-3411(c).