A court has halted the execution of a Texas prisoner who defense attorneys argue is too delusional to be killed. Scott Panetti was sentenced to death for fatally shooting his estranged wife's parents 22 years ago.
Deutsche Welle, 3 Dec 2014
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the reprieve less than eight hours before Texas planned to execute Panetti. His lawyers had cited mental illness in arguing that the state of Texas could not legally execute him, and they sought the delay, finally granted Wednesday, so that Panetti could undergo new competency tests. They noted that, dressed in a purple cowboy outfit, he had acted as his own attorney during trial and tried to subpoena more than 200 witnesses - including the pope and Jesus Christ.
The judges said they needed time to "fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issues in this matter" and that the court would schedule a hearing later to consider arguments.
After Wednesday's ruling, the Texas attorney general announced "no legal reasoning to appeal" that the state would delay Panetti's execution. Panetti's lawyers had also appealed to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in 1986 that authorities cannot execute people who do not understand their crime or punishment.
“Texas should now immediately set about dropping its pursuit of Scott Panetti’s execution" -Rob Freer https://t.co/wUeamTyurm via @amnestyuk
— AmnestyUK Media Team (@NewsFromAmnesty) December 3, 2014
'Cruel and unworthy'
Panetti, now 56, had received his conviction and sentence in 1995, three years after he shot and killed his estranged wife's parents at their home in the Texas Hill Country. Doctors had diagnosed Panetti with schizophrenia in 1978, and he had gone to hospital more than a dozen times for treatment in the decade before the shootings. At his trial, he took on an alternate personality, "Sarge," to testify.
|Panetti had been hospitalized several|
times for schizophrenia
Both had visited Panetti in prison in the past few weeks and said his mental condition had worsened and that he should receive a new round of competency tests. However, state attorneys for Texas had said records showed no significant change since Panetti's last formal examination seven years ago. The UN had even issued an appeal to spare the man's life.
"There is no doubt that it is inherently cruel and unworthy of civilized societies to execute persons with mental disabilities," Juan Mendez, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, had said.
Since the year 2000, Texas has executed more than 300 people. The death penalty is illegal in several nations, including Germany and other members of the European Union, and the UN General Assembly adopted resolutions calling for a moratorium on capital punishment in 2007 and 2008.
mkg/lw (Reuters, AP)