Scott Panetti Case: Evangelical Leader Writes Open Appeal to Gov. Rick Perry to Commute Death Sentence

( [email protected] ) Dec 03, 2014 02:36 PM EST
Dr. Rob Shenck of the National Clergy Council has issued an open appeal to Texas Gov. Rick Perry urging him to commute the death sentence of Scott Panetti to life in prison.
Panetti, 56, has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses for over 30 years and has been hospitalized on 15 separate occasions

A leading Christian Evangelical who has prayed with and for Texas Gov. Rick Perry Governor  has issued an have issued an open appeal to the Governor to mercifully commute the death sentence of Scott Panetti, a diagnosed schizophrenic, to life in prison.

The Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, who prayed with and for Texas Governor Rick Perry last month, said, "In situations like this one, courts have no mechanism to administer mercy, they are all about the law. Mercy rests with the executive branch, so it is in the Governor's purview. If ever there was a time for mercy, it is in this case.  A merciful commuting of the death sentence to life is the morally correct thing to do. The Governor should do everything in his power to commute Mr. Panetti's sentence, even if it is temporary.  In my prayer for the Governor just weeks ago I spoke of those that act in truth even at great cost.  This may cost the Governor something, but it would be well worth it because it's the good and right thing to do."

Panetti, now 56, admitted in 1995 to having killed his in-laws three years earlier, forcing his wife and three-year-old daughter to watch. He has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses for over 30 years and has been hospitalized on 15 separate occasions. Despite his illness, Panetti was scheduled to be executed on Wednesday. However, an appeals court issued a stay Wednesday morning, meaning Panetti's lawyers will have another chance to argue that the death penalty is unconstitutional in their client's case.

According to The Atlantic, Panetti believed he was engaged in a battle with Satan and tried to exorcise his home by burying his furniture in the backyard. At his trial, he dressed as a cowboy and acted as his own attorney. He also attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy and the Pope.  

The pastor's appeal to Gov. Perry cites a "long history of Christian moral theology, philosophy, and instruction" that renders mentally unstable perpetrators "not morally culpable for his acts." Schenck clarifies that "while this does not lift the need to protect society from future acts of violence by such a person, it does preclude the ultimate punishment of death."

Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition and pastor of Church on the Hill in Washington, D.C., added that  killing a mentally challenged inmate will diminish the public's faith in a  moral justice system.

"We pray and appeal to Gov. Perry and the State of Texas to commute this execution of a person who has serious mental challenges," he said. " Justice will not be served in this case and it is simply barbaric to take the life of a person struggling with mental illness. We need to work for an America where the dignity and value of life is embraced and not diminished. Sadly in this case, that is not happening."

More than 93,000 people have signed an online petition asking Perry to grant Panetti clemency. He also has the support of his ex-wife and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Heather Beaudoin, coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, has said that the Panetti case was "the largest outpouring of support on a death penalty case we've seen from evangelicals," and the first time she was aware of Paul personally speaking out against an execution.

If Texas carries out the execution, Panetti would be the 519th person to die by lethal injection in the state since 1982.