Appeals Court Issues Stay of Controversial Execution for Scott Panetti!
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, stayed Panetti's execution "pending further order of the court to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter."
Panetti's case has drawn considerable attention and controversy in recent weeks, as mental health experts and death penalty opponents have said he is too mentally ill to be executed. The convicted murderer of two has been repeatedly diagnosed with psychotic disorders over the last several decades, the first of which was received 14 years before he killed his in-laws.
An unlikely coalition of conservatives, including former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Baptist minister Pat Robertson, have pleaded with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to halt Panetti's execution, on grounds that "as conservatives, we must be on guard that such an extraordinary government sanction not be used against a person who is mentally incapable of rational thought."
Panetti's lawyers had also issued stay requests to the Supreme Court in order to review whether Panetti's mental state made him exempt from capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment's protection from cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court was widely expected to wait to render a decision until after 5th Circuit appeals had been exhausted.
Panetti was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. central time. He was sentenced to death in 1995 for the double-murder of his then-wife's parents, but was diagnosed as a schizophrenic in 1978. His case appeared before the Supreme Court in 2007, which ruled at the time that criminals may not be sentenced to death if they lack the competency to understand why they are being executed.
"We believe that people who live with severe mental illness should have treatment options to keep themselves and others safe," attorneys for Panetti said in a statement after the stay. "When people who have severe mental illness enter our criminal justice system, the system has a moral obligation to respond appropriately to the limitations and deficits presented by mental illness."
Panetti, 56, represented himself during his murder trial in 1992. He wore a cowboy suit and attempted to call hundreds of witnesses to his defense, including Jesus and the pope.