Mental Health Advocates Protest Tx. Execution Plan


A Texas murder defendant with a long history of mental illness who fired his lawyers and argued his own insanity defense in a cowboy outfit is scheduled to be executed tomorrow, reports the New York Times. Scott Louis Panetti, 45, will die by lethal injection unless the governor or courts intervene. Panetti, who had been hospitalized 14 times for mental illness, broke into the home of his estranged wife in 1992 and, with her and their young daughter watching, shot her parents to death.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the verdict and sentence in 1997, ruling that whether Panetti was competent to represent himself was not the issue. “The appropriate question is whether he is competent to choose the endeavor,” said the court, which ruled that he was. The court said that “a mere mental disease or defect, though it may constitute a form of insanity known to and recognized by medical science, does not excuse one for committing a crime.”

The National Mental Health Association called on Gov. Rick Perry to commute Panetti’s sentence to life imprisonment, saying he “has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and there is evidence to suggest that he was psychotic at the time of his crime.” The Texas Defender Service, a private nonprofit law firm representing indigent capital defendants, asked Perry for a 30-day reprieve to allow a review of the case. “Allowing a schizophrenic in a cowboy costume to represent himself in a death penalty case gives new meaning to the term `frontier justice,'” said Jim Marcus, director of the defender service. “Given the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ history of tolerance for defense lawyers who sleep or use drugs and alcohol throughout death penalty trials, however, its laissez-faire approach is hardly surprising.”


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