http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/images/size340/Prison_gates_Credit_RIRF_Stock_Shutterstock_CNA.jpgWashington D.C., Dec 10, 2016 / 04:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 10 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in two separate cases that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to juveniles or the intellectually disabled.
But today, over a decade later, many states still execute inmates with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
And Catholic advocates say the rules need to change.
“As Catholics we are called to uphold the dignity of all life, and supporting a Severe Mental Illness exemption bill is a vital part of our call to live where justice and mercy meet,” said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. The group advocates for an end to the use of capital punishment.
The death penalty for the severely mentally ill “does not further the retributive goals of the punishment, as this population simply does not have the requisite moral culpability,” a new report by the American Bar Association on the death penalty stated.
“Their illnesses can impair the ability to interpret reality accurately, comprehend fully the consequences of their actions, and control their actions.”
Two years ago, a federal court halted at the last minute the execution of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia. Advocates are citing his case in favor of a death penalty ban for the severely mentally ill.
Scott Pinetti, the man at the center of the Texas case, killed his in-laws in 1992 and was sentenced to death in 1995.
Before his crime, he had been hospitalized 14 times in 11 years for symptoms of mental illness. Pinetti was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and suffered from hallucinations. At his trial, he dressed in a purple cowboy outfit and attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. Yet he testified in court against the wishes of his attorney, and the jury sentenced him to death.
A federal appeals court granted a temporary halt to his scheduled execution in 2014, just hours before it was to take place. Texas’ Catholic bishops approved of the move and restated their opposition to his execution.
“The Texas Bishops have long taught about the immorality of the death penalty and were particularly vocal seeking mercy for Panetti, who has been diagnosed by several doctors as suffering from severe mental illness,” they stated, adding that “the death penalty in his case would violate the constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”
Yet despite prohibitions on the execution of juveniles and persons with Intellectual Disability (formerly referred to as mental retardation), decided by the Supreme Court in 2002 and 2005 respectively, many states that use the death penalty have no specific prohibition on the its use on persons who had severe mental illness at the time of their crime.
Thus, controversial executions of people with evidence of mental illness continue. For instance, in 2015 Georgia executed Andrew Brannan, a Vietnam War veteran whose lawyers said was ruled 100 percent disabled with PTSD by the Department of Veterans Affairs and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder before he shot and killed a police officer.
A coalition of groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and other religious and mental health groups have been pushing for this legal protection.