panettiA federal appeals court panel has stayed the execution of a Texas man afflicted with schizophrenia. Scott Panetti, 56, who has suffered from mental illness throughout his adult life, was scheduled to be executed on Dec. 3 for the murder of his parents-in-law in 1992. He had been hospitalized for psychotic disorders 13 times from 1978 to 1991.

At his trial, Panetti, a U. S. Navy veteran, was effectively deprived of the right to counsel when the Texas court allowed him to serve as his own lawyer. Dressed as a cowboy with a purple bandana, he called 200+ witnesses ranging from Jesus to JFK. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

In 2007, Panetti’s case was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which (in Panetti v. Quaterman 551 U.S. 930 (2007) affirmed earlier rulings that criminal defendants sentenced to death may not be executed if they do not understand the reason for their execution.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, authorities in Texas want Panetti dead. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, claiming that Panetti “has a rational understanding of the relationship between his crime and his punishment,” insists on the state’s right to execute him. No court stepped in to stop the proceedings; then, at the last possible hour, a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana) intervened, stating, “We stay the execution (of Panetti) pending further order of the court to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter.”

It is expected that the Court will convene a hearing to examine issues such as whether the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America (prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment) applies to the State of Texas’ intended execution of a mentally ill person.

Image via Newsweek.

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