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Texas Set to Execute Man of Questionable Competence

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

The state of Texas is set to execute Scott Panetti next week, a man who, though found competent to stand trial, has a long history of mental illness.

Scott Panetti was first diagnosed as schizophrenic at the age of 20, suffering from hallucinations after being electrocuted.  Years of therapy and medication allowed Panetti to lead a fairly normal life, even getting married and having a family.  But his schizophrenia and paranoia got worse, with Panetti’s paranoia fixating on ridding his furniture of the Devil, and voices in his head manifesting.  One voice, Sgt. Ranahan, would dress in fatigues and regularly perform enemy patrols in the yard.  After a while, Panetti’s wife had him committed in Waco.

His wife was granted a divorce and Panetti began seeing another woman a few years later whom he got pregnant and married.  Panetti’s new in-laws had little patience for his paranoia and repeatedly criticized him for it.  After an upsetting encounter with his in-laws in 1992, Panetti dressed as Sgt. Ranahan, shaved his head, and painted his face with camo.  Believing his in-laws to be evil, Panetti shot them.

Panetti was found competent to stand trial, allowing him to serve as his own defense attorney as well.  But his competency was repeatedly in question during the trial where he dressed in a purple cowboy outfit, claimed to be the character Ringo Kid from ‘Stagecoach’, and subpoenaed witnesses such as the Pope, JFK, and Jesus.  Panetti was found guilty in 1995 and sentenced to death, but his actions in court have lead many to question the severity of his sentence.  Forensic psychologist Charles Ewing questioned the judge for allowing Panetti to approach the jury during trial, something that seemed to negatively impacted his case,

His demeanor was frightening to the jurors and they saw him as a crazy man. Some of the jurors said that had he been represented by counsel, they doubted that he would have been sentenced to death.

Panetti’s death sentence has been upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Originally set to be executed in 2004, Panetti’s lawyers were able to stay his execution, arguing that  Panetti didn’t understand the reason for his execution, believing he was being executed for preaching to fellow inmates.  However, this week the courts ruled that Panetti will be executed and denied requests to appoint mental health experts.  Rusty Hubbarth, VP of pro-death penalty group Justice For All, supports the state’s decision,

We’ve executed people in Texas before that exhibited mental illness. Mental illness does not constitute a block for execution.

Panetti’s lawyers are still appealing, hoping to prove that Panetti has a right to a competency hearing.  Without another stay of execution, Panetti will be put to death on December 3rd.

via NPR


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