Target: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Presiding Officer Rissie Owens
Goal: Stop the State of Texas from executing a severely psychotic man
A man suffering from severe mental illness is set to be executed by the State of Texas, for murdering his in-laws in 1992. Scott Panetti was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1978 at age 20, and between 1981-92 he was hospitalized on 14 separate occasions in six different hospitals for exhibiting psychotic behavior. Demand that Panetti be pardoned and receive the mental treatment he requires instead of the death penalty.
After murdering the parents of his estranged wife, Sonja Alvarado, Panetti turned himself in and confessed to the murders, claiming that “Sarge” made him do it. At the time he confessed, Panetti was wearing a business suit and had made a poor attempt to shave his head, which sprouted tufts of hair.
Before Panetti could stand trial, he was given a competency hearing to determine his mental capacity to understand the proceedings. At the first hearing in 1994, the jury could not reach a consensus and the judge called for a mistrial. That same year Panetti was deemed fit to stand trial at a second competency hearing, despite a diagnosis of schizophrenia from both the defense’s and the prosecution’s psychiatrists. He knew neither the year nor the name of the President at the time.
In 1995, Panetti fired his lawyers and decided to represent himself. No competency hearing was scheduled to determine that Panetti was of sound enough mind to represent himself. At the trial, Panetti wore a purple cowboy outfit and called over 200 witnesses, including John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ. Panetti was found guilty and sentenced to capital punishment.
Competency hearings to determine whether Panetti was fit for execution followed the same course. It was determined that he lacked a rational understanding of the proceedings, but that factual awareness was not required to carry out an execution. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the assessment of competence for capital punishment in 2006.
n 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that Panetti had not been assessed thoroughly enough to determine his competence, and returned the case to lower state courts, which once again found Panetti competent enough for execution despite three psychiatrists testifying to his extreme level of psychosis. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals again upheld the lower court’s decision and the Supreme Court refused to hear Panetti’s case a second time. Panetti’s execution is set for Dec. 3, 2014.
Under Ford v. Wainwright, the death penalty cannot be carried out “upon a prisoner who is insane,” in accordance with the Eighth Amendment. Panetti must possess a rational understanding of his sentence of execution, a level of comprehension he has yet to exhibit. As the Supreme Court ruled in 2007, “a prisoner’s awareness of the state’s rationale for an execution is not the same as a rational understanding of it.”
Sign this petition asking that Scott Panetti be pardoned and given the medical treatment he so desperately needs.
Dear Officer Owens,
Scott Panetti has been diagnosed time and again as delusional, psychotic and schizophrenic. However, the courts in Texas have managed to deem him competent enough to stand trial, represent himself in court and be sentenced to death.
At no time during during the course of the proceedings of Panetti’s case did he prove himself capable of rationally comprehending any of the circumstances of his trial. To execute a man who exhibits clearly psychotic behavior is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment and the circumstances which led to Panetti being declared competent were questionable at best.
I urge you to pardon Scott Panetti immediately and give him the mental treatment he needs.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: CA Corrections via Wikimedia Commons