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How Crazy Is Too Crazy For Execution?

Scott Panetti thinks Satan will kill him on Dec. 3, and he’s partly right. He’s scheduled to be executed that day by the state of Texas.

Panetti is convinced the devil is behind all his problems. That’s why he once tried to bury his furniture and also why, on Sept 8, 1992, he shaved his head, murdered Joe Gaitan Alvarado Jr. and Amanda Carrion Alvarado, the parents of his estranged wife, Sonja Alvarado, and held his wife and daughter hostage that night before turning himself in to the police the next morning. And that is why, in his world, it made perfect sense for him to represent himself at trial, dressed as a cowboy, and try and call Jesus as a witness.

Panetti, a Navy veteran and now 56, has a long history mental illness, and was first diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia at Brooke Army Medical Center in 1978. There is no doubt that Panetti committed the double murder and there’s no doubt that he is mentally ill. The question is —is he too crazy to be executed? The state of Texas says no, but others disagree.

Last week, his lawyers argued that a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Panetti v. Quarterman, a response to a prior appeal, stating that mentally ill convicts could be executed as long as they understood what was going on, did not apply at this point, as Panetti’s mental state had not been evaluated in seven years.

This week, dozens of organizations and individuals called on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Gov. Rick Perry, to stop the execution. But these calls for clemency appear to have had no effect.

On Friday, attorneys for Panetti filed a new motion in the 216th District Court in Kerrville. The motion seeks to stay or modify the execution date in order to assess Panetti's competency to be executed. Kathryn Kase is Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service and one of Panetti’s team, and is advocating that the word, and spirit of the law be followed.

TIMELINE of Panetti's Mental Illness 

The clemency petition 

Letter to Gov. Rick Perry

letter from leading national and Texas mental health organizations and experts

And more can be accessed here: www.texasdefender.org/scott-panetti

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi