This week, the state of Texas intends to execute Scott Panetti, who in 1992 shot dead his mother-in-law and father-in-law in front of his estranged wife and their three-year-old daughter. That Mr Panetti, now 56, committed the murders has never been in doubt; he admitted as much at his trial in 1995, when he defended himself while dressed in a purple cowboy outfit and attempted to call more than 200 witnesses, including John F Kennedy and Jesus Christ.
Long before it became clear from his courtroom antics, Mr Panetti had been diagnosed as severely mentally ill, which is why his impending lethal injection – due to be carried out on Wednesday – is opposed by not only his lawyers and a familiar collection of human rights groups, but also by an alliance of conservatives.
Among those protesting against Mr Panetti’s death sentence are more than 50 leading evangelical Christians, seven Methodist bishops, 10 Texas state politicians and the libertarian former presidential candidate Ron Paul. Mr Paul, a former Republican congressman who once backed the death penalty, wrote last month to Rick Perry, the Texas Governor, to appeal for clemency in the Panetti case. It is thought to be the first time he has publicly opposed an execution.
The state’s former Democrat Governor, Mark White, said: “I know very well that in so many instances, there are incredibly close and difficult calls that have to be made to either allow or prohibit the death penalty from being carried out. But Scott Panetti’s plea for clemency is no such case. He is a severely mentally ill man. His trial was a sham. And executing Panetti would say far more about us than it would about the man we are attempting to kill.”
Mr Panetti was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by army doctors in 1978. Several years later, he buried all of the furniture in his home, believing the Devil was hiding in it. He was hospitalised more than a dozen times between his first diagnosis and 1992, when his wife, Sonja, obtained a restraining order and took their daughter to live with her parents, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, in the Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg. She reportedly tried to have her husband committed, and even took his guns to the police, but they refused to confiscate the weapons and instead returned them to their owner.
Days later, Mr Panetti donned a camouflage uniform, shaved his head and went to his in-laws’ home, where he shot the couple dead, showering his wife and child in their blood. Later that afternoon, after washing and changing into a suit, he gave himself up.
At trial, Mr Panetti claimed he was ordered to carry out the killings by Sergeant Ranahan Iron Horse, an auditory hallucination whom he called “Sarge”. The court, which could have stepped in and compelled him to hire a lawyer, instead allowed Mr Panetti to continue defending himself. On death row, he reportedly suffers from the delusion that Satan planned his execution to prevent him preaching Christianity to other inmates. He also claims the prison dentist implanted a listening device in his tooth, and that pop star Selena Gomez is his daughter.