BREAKING: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the execution of Scott Panetti, who had been scheduled for execution in Texas tonight at 6 p.m. CT.
Below is a statement from Mr. Panetti’s legal team, Greg Wiercioch of University of Wisconsin Law School and Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service, followed by background about the case.
“We are grateful that the court stayed tonight’s scheduled execution of Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia for three decades, for a careful review of the issues surrounding his competency. Mr. Panetti’s illness, schizophrenia, was present for years prior to the crime, profoundly affected his trial, and appears to have worsened in recent years. Mr. Panetti has not had a competency evaluation in seven years, and we believe that today’s ruling is the first step in a process which will clearly demonstrate that Mr. Panetti is too severely mentally ill to be executed.
“We would like to remember the Alvarado family today and express our deepest sympathies for the loss of Amanda and Joe Alvarado.
“We believe that people who live with severe mental illness should have treatment options to keep themselves and others safe. When people who have severe mental illness enter our criminal justice system, the system has a moral obligation to respond appropriately to the limitations and deficits presented by mental illness.”
-Greg Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase, attorneys for Scott Panetti
-December 3, 2014
The Fifth Circuit Stay Order can be accessed here:
Mr. Panetti’s Opening Brief at the Fifth Circuit and Request for a Stay of Execution 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: 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.
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 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; 55 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 Texas affiliate; 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: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti/
To access the letters supporting clemency, additional legal documents and other case resources, including a video, please go to: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti.
Additionally, a petition started by Mr. Panetti’s sister, Vicki Panetti, has been signed by over 95,000 concerned individuals. https://www.change.org/p/gov-rick-perry-spare-my-brother-s-life-a-severely-mentally-ill-man-on-death-row
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, Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com; 202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c).