StandDown Texas Project

The StandDown Texas Project identifies and advocates best practices in the criminal justice system. To stand down is to go off duty temporarily, especially to review safety procedures. That is what Texas needs to do with its death penalty.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ruling Expected in Scott Panetti Case

Earlier this month, Federal District Judge Sam Sparks held a two-day hearing on the question of whether or not Scott Panetti is competent to be executed. His case drew national press attention in the spring when his execution was stayed. Leaders of the mental health community in Texas had called for an evaluation of Panetti.

Panetti had been diagnosed with severe mental illness and hospitalized numerous times over a ten year period prior to murdering his former parents-in-law. In what was described at the time by one observer as "a judicial farce," Panetti was allowed to represent himself at the trial. Observers described bizarre behavior by Panetti who wore a Tom Mix style cowboy costume. He was quickly convicted and sentenced to death.

According to witnesses at the two-day hearing, Panetti's mental illness has continued to degenerate over the years, and he does not understand why is to be executed. In order to be deemed competent to be executed a person must be able to understand that they are to be executed, that the execution is imminent, and the reason they are being executed.

Many people mistakenly believe that states are barred from executing the mentally ill. Such a ban applies to those with mental retardation, a lifelong condition that affects intellectual capacity, not mental illness. Identifiable mental illnesses can vary widely in severity and duration.

Earlier this year, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, by a 5-1 vote, recommended a commutation of sentence for Kelsey Patterson, who also suffered from severe mental illness. Like Panetti, Patterson's illness had been diagnosed for years prior to the crime he committed for which he was sentenced to death. Governor Rick Perry rejected the Board's recommendation and Patterson was executed.

Watch for a ruling soon in Scott Panetti's case.


At 10:16 AM, Blogger TheDevilIsInTheDetails said...

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