In 1992, Scott Louis Panetti went to the home of his in-laws in Fredericksburg, where his wife was staying with their 3-year-old daughter.
Armed with a .30-06 rifle, he forced his way into the house and assaulted his wife, according to Death Row records at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“Confronted by his in-laws, Panetti shot the both of them and then kidnapped his wife and daughter, taking them to [a] cabin where he held them for some time at gunpoint before releasing them,” the records state. “Arrested the same day, Panetti told police that it was his alter ego, ‘Sarge,’ who did the killing.”
That last sentence is significant because it speaks to Panetti’s long and continuing battle with mental illness.
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For 14 years before the murder, Panetti had been hospitalized at least 15 times at various institutions, including Brooke Army Medical Center, Kerrville State Hospital, Waco Veterans Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Tomah, Wis.
Doctors who recorded his behavior at those hospitals wrote: “Psychotic and not oriented to time, place or person on admission”; “Incoherent,” “paranoid” and “grandiose”; “Threatened suicide”; “Failing to comply with his medication regimen. Threatening towards his wife and kids”; “patient has schizoid quality about him; appears to be on the edge of a psychotic break. Feels he is controlled by an unseen power.”; “Wife reports that he believed the devil was in the furniture and buried furniture in the back yard and then nailed the curtains shut.”
In 1986, the Social Security Administration found him to be disabled and deserving of benefits due to his schizophrenia.
Despite that kind of mental history, he was allowed to represent himself at his capital murder trial in 1995, according to his current lawyers, who noted:
“Wearing a cowboy costume with a purple bandana and attempting to call over 200 people to the witness stand, including the Pope, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and his own alter ego, Mr. Panetti was found guilty and sentenced to death.”
Panetti was scheduled to be put to death in 2004, but a federal judge stayed that execution. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, determined him to be competent for execution using a standard that the Supreme Court ultimately rejected.
Still, the state of Texas wouldn’t give up on trying to kill this man. Last year, the Fifth Circuit again found Panetti competent to be executed, and on Oct. 16 a state district judge signed a warrant setting the execution date for Dec. 3, a fact Panetti’s attorneys didn’t learn about until two weeks later — when they read it in the newspaper.
Since then there has been an all-out effort to stop this travesty, by at least modifying the execution date and allowing his attorneys the opportunity to litigate Panetti’s competency for execution. That’s what his lawyers have asked for in an emergency motion for a hearing.
In addition, last week the attorneys and dozens of organizations and individuals from across the country have called on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry to stop this execution and grant clemency for the obviously mentally ill individual.
“The case of Scott Louis Panetti is a judicial disaster that has attracted national and international outrage — and for good reason,” the clemency petition states. “Evidence of his incompetency runs like a fissure through every proceeding in this case — from arraignment to execution … The execution of Scott Panetti would cross a moral line.”
Indeed it would.
Texas already has executed 10 people this year and, aside from Panetti, another 10 are scheduled to die during the next six months.
Somehow we must stop this one. Let the governor know he must not allow this immoral act to go forward.