Texas set to execute murderer afflicted with severe mental illness

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2014 7:18 AM

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas plans to execute a convicted double murderer on Wednesday over the objections of lawyers arguing his life should be spared because he suffers from serious mental illness and putting him to death would be morally and legally wrong.

Scott Panetti, 56, is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. CST (1900 ET) by lethal injection at the state's death chamber in Huntsville. If the execution goes ahead, Panetti would be the 519th person executed in Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the most of any state.

U.N. human rights experts on Tuesday called on Texas to halt the execution. Major Texas newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News have said in editorials the execution of a seriously mentally ill inmate would be inexcusable.

Panetti, 56, was convicted of fatally shooting his wife's parents in the central Texas town of Fredericksburg in 1992. Panetti shaved his head, sawed off a shotgun and broke into the home of Joe and Amanda Alvarado, killing the two with his wife and daughter witnessing him shoot dead his mother-in-law, the Texas attorney general said.

"There is still time to stop this unconscionable execution of a severely mentally ill man who would die without comprehending what his death means," said Kathryn Kase, an attorney for Panetti.

Panetti donned a cowboy suit and represented himself at his 1995 trial, often speaking incoherently and seeking to call Jesus Christ and President John F. Kennedy as defense witnesses.

Lawyers for Panetti have launched last-ditch appeals for the man they say is delusional and has been afflicted with schizophrenia for over 30 years. He was hospitalized a dozen times for psychosis and delusions in the six years leading up to the crime, they said.

The Texas Attorney General's office has said that courts have ruled him competent to stand trial and to be executed.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)