Lawyers ask US supreme court to halt execution of mentally ill Texas inmate


Attorneys for Scott Panetti, a Texas inmate scheduled to die tomorrow, contend he is too delusional for execution and have asked the SCOTUS to halt his lethal injection and determine if mentally ill people should be exempt from the death penalty because it is unconstitutionally cruel punishment.

Panetti is scheduled to be executed for the 1992 murders of his in-laws. He was diagnosed schizophrenia in the late 1970s.

“Imposition of the death penalty on people with severe mental illness, as with people with intellectual disability, does not serve the two goals of deterrence and retribution because of their reduced moral culpability,” Panetti’s lawyers argued to the high court on Monday.


Apparently there was no plea of not guilty by reason of insanity at the time. That said the Church considers the death penalty an option only if there is no way to contain the prisoner safely. (I’m just speaking from memory maybe someone can post the actual CC reference). Therefore, I’m for life in prison without parole.



SCOTUS ruled in Atkins that it was unconstitutional to execute someone who was mentally retarded. The argument here is whether this prohibition should also extend to those who are mentally ill. Mental retardation prevents someone from understanding the significance of his act, which goes to the issue of culpability. Someone who is mentally, ill, by contrast, may have a distorted view of the world but this does eliminate his culpability. In this case it is important to recognize that Panetti is not mentally retarded.



How many people has he killed since 1992? There’s no reason to kill him, mentally ill or not.

If Texas were a nation they would be among the top nations for executions.


This is shocking to me. In the UK, he would be detained in a secure hospital for dangerous people with intractable and severe mental illness.

In any case, he’s already served over 20 years in prison!


They shouldn’t execute him whether he is mentally ill or not.


From what I’ve read, he has serious mental health issues. I don’t see how even someone who supports the death penalty in principle could support this execution. :gopray:


Does a “mental health” problem mean a person is not accountable for his actions?



As a Texan, I love this state, but agree that we’re far too liberal in the application of the death penalty >_>


The UN has weighed in, urging Texas to halt the execution.

“Given the irreversible nature of the death penalty, we urgently appeal to the Government of the United States and the state of Texas to find a way to stop the scheduled execution, and we hope that serious consideration will be given to commuting the sentence,” Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, and U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez said in a statement.

Panetti is reported to have been hospitalized for chronic schizophrenia, depression and delusions between 1981 and 1992. Carrying out the death penalty of someone with mental illness may amount to an “arbitrary execution”, Heyns said.

“There is no doubt that it is inherently cruel and unworthy of civilized societies to execute persons with mental disabilities,” said Mendez.


This man was intelligent enough to figure out how to murder his in-laws, apparently. :rolleyes:


In this case, yes. Of course, mental illness is a massive spectrum. This is more than a mental health ‘problem’, he was hospitalised a dozen times in the decade leading up to the murders.

He’s very dangerous to other people and needs to be safely incarcerated (probably for life), but to execute him would be a wicked thing, in my opinion.


I agree! We should all get passes for a few killings, as long as we don’t take it too far.


In this case (and I have read about this case), I would say that it should mean that he is not accountable to the extent of the death penalty. I am a long-time proponent of capital punishment, provided that the perp is knowledgeable of his actions and their consequences, and provided that the perp’s guilt can be established beyond all doubt (not just beyond “reasonable” doubt). However, in this case I am convinced that there is sufficient cause to just have this person permanently locked up.


True, and this is why the question has to be resolved case by case. I don’t think one can write a general rule to cover the issue.

This is more than a mental health ‘problem’, he was hospitalised a dozen times in the decade leading up to the murders.

True again, but that doesn’t cover what has been going on since his trial.Panetti sought appellate review in the Texas courts, as well as state habeas relief. All these efforts were fruitless. The U.S. Supreme Court twice declined to review Panetti’s case. Panetti then filed a federal habeas petition, which was denied, and that denial was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court again declined to review the case.

*Once these federal habeas proceedings had ended, the state trial judge, Steven Ables, set an execution date of February 5, 2004. At this point, Panetti claimed that he was incompetent to be executed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Panetti’s appeal, and Panetti filed another federal habeas petition. On February 4, 2004, the federal district court stayed Panetti’s execution in order to allow the state courts to adjudicate Panetti’s claim of mental incompetence. The state trial court, in turn, appointed two mental health experts to evaluate Panetti. Lawyers defending Panetti were given a one week notice to also acquire mental health experts to also evaluate Panetti. Both of the experts for the state concluded that Panetti was malingering in order to avoid execution. Panetti responded by arguing that the trial court’s procedures did not comply with the procedures set forth in Ford v. Wainwright. ** The state trial court responded by closing the case, ruling that Panetti did not show he was incompetent to be executed. *He did not appeal to either the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

*Instead, he returned to federal court, where another hearing was held. After the hearing the district court concluded that the state courts had not complied with the procedural requirements of Ford. Nevertheless, it denied relief because, under Fifth Circuit precedent, it was enough that Panetti know simply that he was about to be executed and the “factual predicate” for the execution. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of Panetti’s habeas petition, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case. *(Wikipedia)
Given that a court addressed the specific question of his competency, suggestions that he should not be executed because the public, on the basis of pretty much nothing at all, deems him incompetent seems misguided.



Intelligence and mental illness are not mutually exclusive.


Well, if it turns out that you’re as mentally ill as he is . . .


This is really the point of this discussion. A mentally retarded person cannot be executed because he cannot adequately understand that what he did was wrong, and why he is being punished. That criterion does not usually apply to those who suffer from mental illnesses. A person who understands what he did, and why he is being punished for having done it, is culpable.



Ron Paul has asked Gov. Perry to stay the execution. Keep in mind the Texas governor has no power to commute the sentence - he can only issue a 30 day stay.


I just saw on CNN that the 5th Circuit Court has ordered his execution postponed:

And I think it’s worth noting that even his ex-wife, whose parents he killed, doesn’t think he’s sane enough to have been tried.

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