5th Cir. Stays Execution of Mentally Ill Scott Panetti

By William Peacock, Esq. on December 03, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Will Texas get its chance to execute a schizophrenic man who defended himself while wearing a purple cowboy suit and tried to call JFK and the Pope as witnesses? Not yet.

Scott Panetti, set for execution today, was granted a last-minute stay by the Fifth Circuit "to allow [the court] to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue." No timetable has yet been set, but the court did say in its order that a briefing and oral argument schedule would follow. (H/T to Josh Lee on Twitter.)

Panetti Recap

We covered Panetti in detail last month, but here's the short version: He has a long documented history of schizophrenia pre-dating the horrific murders he carried out in front of his wife and daughter, including a military discharge and multiple hospitalizations. He represented himself in a farce of a trial and was sentenced to death.

His appeals reached the U.S. Supreme Court previously, and the Court rejiggered the Fifth Circuit's standard for mental competency to be executed. Still, his sentence was affirmed on remand. His lawyers argue that his condition has worsened. He seems to currently believe that Texas says that he is being executed because he committed murders (he understands the factual predicate, in other words), but thinks that it is all a cover for Satan's desire to take him out for spreading the word of the Lord to fellow condemned prisoners.

Texas Will Let This Play Out

Although Texas typically rushes to execute prisoners, and was previously pressing hard to go forward with Panetti's execution, state Attorney General Greg Abbott told The New York Times that they would not challenge the Fifth Circuit's stay and that the execution would be postponed. Gov. Rick Perry said that he respected the court's decision as well.

The state is not, however, giving up altogether. Officials say that recorded conversations between Panetti and his family show that he is more competent than he lets on. They also argue that he is competent enough to understand the reason for the execution, which meets the Supreme Court's adjusted standard from his previous trip to the High Court.

"Panetti knows that he killed his in-laws, while his wife and child looked on, and he knows that he has been sentenced to die for that crime," Abbott's office said.

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