Scott Panetti is on death row in Texas for the murder of his wife’s parents. Panetti, 48, who represented himself in court despite a long history of mental illness, believes that the state, in league with Satan, wants to kill him to keep him from preaching the Gospel, reports the New York Times. The case illustrates the next big question in death penalty law: what makes someone too mentally ill to be executed? The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit says Panetti is sane enough to die. A motion for reconsideration is pending.
In and out of mental institutions 14 times and long addicted to drugs and alcohol, Panetti wore cowboy costumes to court, delivered rambling monologues, put himself on the witness stand and sought to subpoena the pope, Jesus and John F. Kennedy. But a jury found he knew right from wrong and deserved the death penalty. That is a separate question from whether his mental illness should bar his execution. Experts estimate that hundreds of people with schizophrenia and other severe mental ills are on death rows around the U.S.