Rick Perry Can't Execute Mentally Ill Convict Just Yet
In a fit of temporary sanity, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay of execution for Scott Panetti, the severely mentally ill murderer whose execution was supposed to have been prevented by a 2007 Supreme Court decision holding that states cannot execute people who are so mentally ill that they are "unaware of the punishment they’re about to suffer and why they are to suffer it." It was a pretty good ruling, except that Texas turned right around and determined, possibly by examining chicken entrails and signs in the night sky, that Panetti was actually perfectly sane, and that he'd faked his entire history of mental illness (first diagnosed in 1978) in an attempt to escape capital punishment for the 1992 murders of his in-laws.
Needless to say, Texas also didn't have a problem with letting Panetti represent himself at his 1995 trial, where he attempted to call as witnesses Jesus Christ, the Pope, and John F. Kennedy. He also took the stand himself, to testify in the personality of his murderous alter-ego "Sarge," who he says did the actual killing. Today, he "reportedly insists his execution was planned by Satan, to prevent him from preaching Christianity to other inmates."
Panetti hasn't had a mental health assessment since 2007, when the state determined that he was faking, based on the testimony of psychiatrist Alan Waldman, whose specialty is determining that convicts are faking mental illness and are therefore eligible to be put to death. Again, we urge you to read this Mother Jones article on Panetti, if only for its profile of Waldman, who appears to have stepped fully-formed out of an Errol Morris documentary.
The stay of execution granted today is meant to "allow [the 5th Circuit] to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue" in Panetti's case. While the order didn't specify that Panetti should have a new mental health assessment, his lawyers, Greg Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase, issued a statement in which they expressed hope that Panetti would not be executed:
We are grateful that the court stayed tonight’s scheduled execution of Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia for three decades, for a careful review of the issues surrounding his competency. Mr. Panetti’s illness, schizophrenia, was present for years prior to the crime, profoundly affected his trial, and appears to have worsened in recent years. Mr. Panetti has not had a competency evaluation in seven years, and we believe that today’s ruling is the first step in a process which will clearly demonstrate that Mr. Panetti is too severely mentally ill to be executed.
A group of conservative luminaries had called on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to delay Panetti's execution, both because it was morally obscene and because it might undermine support for good executions. Now that the 5th Circuit has stepped in, Perry can continue to be silent on Panetti and keep hoping that taking a position one way or the other won't hurt him with 2016 Republican primary voters. (We are joking, of course -- Perry's chances would only be hurt if he backed off from executing anyone, ever.)
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.