Scott Panetti Execution: Christians Urge Texas Gov. Perry to Reconsider Death Sentence of Mentally Ill Man

( [email protected] ) Dec 01, 2014 05:28 PM EST
A group of Conservative leaders are urging Texas Gov. Rick Perry to reconsider the death sentence of Scott Panetti, a mentally challenged man who will receive a lethal injection on Wednesday.
Panetti has suffered from schizophrenia and delusions since childhood, according to his psychiatric evaluation.

Over a dozen Conservative leaders are asking Texas Governor Rick Perry to commute the death sentence of Scott Panetti, a mentally challenged man who is set to receive a lethal injection on Wednesday, to life in prison without parole.

"Mr. Panetti is one of the most seriously mentally ill prisoners on death row in the United States. Rather than serving as a measured response to murder, the execution of Mr. Panetti would only serve to undermine the public's faith in a fair and moral justice system," wrote the conservatives, which includes former presidential candidate Ron Paul and 50 leading evangelical Christians, seven Methodist bishops, 10 Texas state politicians. 

In 1992, Panetti  turned himself into police after shooting and killing his in-laws at their Texas Hill Country home in front of his estranged wife and 3-year-old daughter. At the time of his trial, he had already been hospitalized more than a dozen times for psychosis related to his schizophrenia and had suffered delusions throughout his life.  

The 56 year old former U.S. Navy veteran argued his case to the courts in dressed in a purple cowboy costume and a 10-gallon hat, and attempted to call famous witnesses to the stand such as President Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and Jesus Christ.

Panetti also reportedly spoke to himself in different voices and assumed the persona of "Sarge," the alter ego he believed was responsible for killing his in-laws.

The Huffington Post reports that a 2007 Supreme Court review of Panetti's case tweaked the criteria for executing those with severe mental disorders by requiring inmates to not only know that they are being punished, but to also have a "rational understanding" of their punishment.

However, the case was sent back to the lower courts, and Panetti was examined by psychiatrists in 2008 and the court again found him to be competent enough to execute.

Kathryn Kase, one of Panetti's lawyers, told CBS News that he has shown increasingly delusional behavior since his sentencing, and believes his punishment is "part of a satanic conspiracy to prevent him from preaching the Gospel."

"He cannot appreciate why Texas seeks to execute him," Kase said. "You have to have a rational as well as factual understanding of why you're being executed.

"In Mr. Panetti's case, his understanding is the state wants to prevent him from preaching the Gospel on death row and saving their souls. And clearly that's not factual or rational."

Panetti's attorneys and conservative groups are hoping to convince the Texas judicial system to reconsider the sentence, or perhaps get his execution date postponed so that he can undergo further psychological testing to determine if he's competent to be put to death.

"It is clear that [Panetti] has been suffering from severe mental illness since long before he committed the offense that landed him on death row," the letter to Gov. Perry continues.

"As conservatives, we must be on guard that such an extraordinary government sanction not be used against a person who is mentally incapable of rational thought. It would be immoral for the government to take this man's life. Should the Board [of Pardons and Paroles] recommend it, we respectfully urge you to reduce Mr. Panetti's death sentence to life in prison."

Ron Honberg, national director for policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, writes that while there is "no question" that Panetti must be incarcerated, an execution would be "immoral and serve no purpose, either in retribution or to prevent similar crimes."

"Either the courts must step in to stay this travesty or Texas Gov. Rick Perry must commute Panetti's sentence to life," said Honberg.

"Otherwise, the state will kill an individual who is so ill and delusional that he cannot begin to comprehend his fate."