Target: Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart
Goal: Support the stay of execution for a severely psychotic death-row inmate
Scott Panetti was sentenced to be executed on December 3, 2014 for the murder of his in-laws in 1992. Panetti has been diagnosed as schizophrenic multiple times by different psychiatrists since 1978 and has been hospitalized many times for exhibiting psychotic behavior. At no time in his case has Panetti shown that he was competent enough to stand trial, represent himself or be sentenced to execution, but all three injustices were visited upon him. A previous petition on ForceChange asked for a stay of execution and, thankfully, 12 hours prior to his scheduled death, Panetti was granted that stay.
When Panetti was deemed competent to stand trial in 1994, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic by psychiatrists from both the defense and the prosecution and did not know the date or the name of the president. Panetti’s attorney said he had not had a single rational conversation with his client in the two years he had represented him. Still, Panetti was forced to stand trial.
In the time between the competency hearing and the trial, Panetti became paranoid and was convinced that his lawyers were in collusion with the court and fired them, insisting instead on representing himself. During the trial, Panetti attempted to call over 200 witnesses, among them Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy. He was sentenced to be executed. Members of the jury admitted that they were so afraid of him they sentenced him to die to keep him off the streets. Texas is one of the few states that does not require a second competency hearing for questionable defendants to represent themselves in trial once they have been deemed competent to stand trial at all.
Panetti was sentenced to be executed on December 3, 2014. His lawyers were not informed of the scheduled execution but read about it in the newspaper. The lawyers requested a stay of execution from the circuit court on the grounds that the execution of someone who is insane violates his eighth amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. The stay was granted in order to give the court time to come to a decision about the legality of putting to death such a clearly mentally ill person.
While those with mental illnesses who commit crimes must still face some form of punishment within our nation’s justice system, killing a man who cannot understand the rationale for his sentence is different than killing a man who rationally understands his circumstances.
Sign this petition in support of Scott Panetti’s stay of execution.
Scott Panetti is clearly a severely mentally ill man who is not at fault for his disorder. While murder is an incredibly serious crime and should not be punished lightly, Panetti’s death would not serve as a warning to those who might choose to commit murder. His death would only illuminate the failings of our justice system.
If we fail to recognize the difference in rational understanding between those with severe mental illnesses and those without, will we then fail to recognize the difference between the rationalizations of a child and an adult?
I support Scott Panetti’s stay of execution, without which we may have murdered a severely disabled person without stopping to consider the implications of that action.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: U.S. Airforce Airman 1st Class Grace Lee via Wikimedia Commons