Mentally ill Scott Panetti scheduled to be put to death in Texas | News | DW | 03.12.2014
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Mentally ill Scott Panetti scheduled to be put to death in Texas

A schizophrenic man on death row in Texas has been denied clemency. Scott Panetti is scheduled to be executed later on Wednesday. He was sentenced to death in a trial in which he called Jesus and JFK to the stand.

A 56-year-old mentally ill man is set to be put to death in Texas on Wednesday by lethal injection. Scott Panetti has spent nearly 20 years on death row in prison after killing his wife's parents.

Amnesty International has condemned the sentencing, writing on its website on November 28: "The State of Texas should immediately halt its shameful plans to execute a man with severe mental illness."

His lawyers have launched last-minute appeals against his death sentence, arguing that putting him to death would cross constitutional and moral lines. They have called on Texas Governor Rick Perry to issue a 30-day stay so that a competency hearing can take place.

A federal appeals court had been considering whether he should be spared from execution to undergo new examinations to determine the state of his mental health. Yet state attorneys say his condition "has not markedly changed" and that the execution should be carried out. No court has deemed him mentally ill nor ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

Ellen Stewart-Klein, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that records failed to support claims that Panetti's mental condition had deteriorated. She insisted Panetti's behavior could be a show.

"Panetti's mental health condition has long been exaggerated to his benefit and he continues this long established pattern here," Stewart-Klein said.

Schizophrenic hallucinations

Scott Panetti was institutionalized numerous times after being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1978. That was nearly 15 years before he killed Joe and Amanda Alvarado at their home in Texas Hill Country in 1992.

Scott Panetti

Scott Panetti was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of his in-laws

His legal representation insist that he does not understand why he is to be put to death and that he believes Satan is working through the Texas state penal system to punish him for preaching the Gospel.

One of his attorneys, Gregory Wiercioch, who met with his client last week, said that his delusions had become "more pervasive."

Panetti has claimed prison system dentists had implanted a "listening device" in his tooth and were seeking to shut him up "about the corruption" and "preaching the Gospel." Wiercioch said Panetti told him that his tooth sent a message to his brain to write a letter of apology to President Barack Obama for getting into a fight with the future president in the sixth grade at a Chicago museum, the Associated Press reported.

Jesus, the Pope and John F. Kennedy as witnesses

In his trial in 1995, Panetti fired his court-appointed legal representation, claiming they were against him and instead represented himself wearing an ostentatious cowboy costume and a purple bandana around his neck. He testified at his own trial as alternate personality "Sarge" to describe the murders. He was subsequently sentenced to death.

In a 5 to 4 ruling on November 25, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to issue a stay of execution. He was last denied clemency on Monday.

His execution is to take place at 6 p.m. local time (0100 GMT). If put to death, he will be the 11th person to be institutionally killed in Texas this year and the 519th person in that state since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Panetti's case has attracted mass criticism, even among members of Texas Governor's own Republican Party. Human rights experts point to a 1986 court ruling which says that states cannot put to death murderers whose insanity means they cannot understand why they are being put to death. In 2002, justices prohibited the execution of the mentally impaired.

Texas accounts for nearly 40 percent of all executions in the US, according to Amnesty International. The US was one of only nine countries that carried out executions yearly between 2009 and 2013.

sb/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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