The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit told a lower court to take another look at whether schizophrenic Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti is eligible for execution, reports the Texas Tribune. Panetti is a poster child for advocates who argue against the death penalty for the mentally ill. A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, during his trial more than 20 years ago, he waived his right to counsel and attempted to call the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ as witnesses. At issue in the latest appeal is whether a federal court would grant Panetti a lawyer, experts and time to present evidence that he is incompetent for execution. His mental competency was last examined in 2007, the year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his case that a person sentenced to death person must understand that they’re about to executed and why.
A federal trial judge had ruled that Panetti “failed to show that his mental health had substantially changed” since the 2007 evaluation. The appellate court rejected that\ conclusion and ordered the lower court to grant Panetti’s request and further review his competency. “The reality is that a decade has now passed since the last determination of whether this concededly mentally ill petitioner is competent to be executed,” wrote Judge Patrick Higginbotham. “We need not and do not treat the merits of Panetti’s claim that he is incompetent to be executed — that is for the district court after Panetti has been afforded the opportunity to develop his position.” Panetti was sentenced to death for the 1992 murders of his wife’s parents. His appeals have focused on his early diagnosis of schizophrenia in 1978 and stories of delusions that have persisted throughout his life. Since his last evaluation, prison guards have noticed Panetti acting delusional, claiming to be the father of singer Selena Gomez and saying that CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer showed his stolen prison ID card on the news.