Stay of Execution Granted for Schizophrenic Texas Inmate
Within eight hours of his scheduled execution on Wednesday, Scott Panetti was granted a stay of execution by the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Convicted of the 1992 murders of his in-laws, Panetti has suffered from schizophrenia since the 70s, even being committed for his condition. Though found competent to stand trial and defend himself, Panetti's mental health was in question during the trial as he wore a purple cowboy outfit, claimed to be a character from a John Wayne movie, and called JFK, Jesus, and the Pope as witnesses.
According to his lawyer, Panetti's mental state has deteriorated and hasn't received a mental health evaluation in nearly seven years. Panetti's lawyers petitioned the courts and Governor Perry to grant a stay of execution for thirty days to allow a mental evaluation to be performed to determine if Panetti is aware of the nature of his punishment.
Many have come to Panetti's defense against his death sentence, even his ex-wife, whose parents he killed, believes he never should have stood trial because of his paranoia and mental state at the time. Both liberal and conservative groups have plead with Governor Perry to change Panetti's sentence to life in prison, saying that to execute a man of his mental condition would undermine the public's faith in a moral justice system. Ron Honberb, legal director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has noted that to execute Panetti would just go to strengthen the idea that the country doesn't care about those suffering from mental illnesses,
If he's executed there should be a sense of outrage. There's no question he's mentally ill. If this happens, the message would be -- 'we just don't care.'
To execute him flies in the face of even supporters of the death penalty who say that it should be carried out with inmates who are the worst of the worst. It would be much more compassionate and practical to spend money treating inmates with mental illness rather than execute this man.
The 5th Circuit Court, the same court that ruled for the stay of execution today, ruled last year that Panetti was mentally fit enough to be executed.