Court commended for staying execution of mentally ill man
The Catholic bishops in Texas thanked a federal appeals court for issuing a stay of execution for mentally ill inmate Scott Louis Panetti mere hours before the state was due to carry out his capital punishment, reports Catholic News Agency.
“The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops today expressed appreciation to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for granting a stay of execution for death row inmate Scott Panetti,” a Dec. 3 statement from the Texas Catholic Conference read.
It added, “The Texas Bishops have long taught about the immorality of the death penalty and were particularly vocal seeking mercy for Panetti, who has been diagnosed by several doctors as suffering from severe mental illness.”
The stay, the bishops said, “means Panetti's attorneys will have another opportunity to argue that the death penalty in his case would violate the constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Texas Catholic Conference will continue to advocate for the commutation of Panetti’s sentence into institutionalization.”
Panetti was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday evening, but the fifth circuit appeals court said it needed time “to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter.”
In September 1992, Panetti killed his in-laws Joe and Amanda Alvarado in their home in front of his estranged wife and their 3-year-old daughter. He was heavily armed and dressed in camouflage.
He had been hospitalized for mental illness more than a dozen times before the murders, and is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.
During his 1995 trial, he acknowledged that he had killed the two. However, he acted as his own attorney and dressed as a cowboy, believing that only an insane person could make an insanity defense, the Associated Press reports. He also tried to subpoena John F. Kennedy and the Pope.
Kathryn Kase, one of Panetti’s lawyers, has said the inmate believes he is being punished as part of a satanic conspiracy to prevent him from preaching the Gospel on death row.
Prosecutors have said that Panetti is faking insanity. Court-appointed experts for the state have voiced suspicions that some of his behavior was contrived. An assistant district attorney for Gillespie County, which handled his trial, has said that the inmate’s discussion of politics during a Nov. 4 prison visit with relatives showed he was oriented in time and place.
However, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has unanimously recommended his sentence be commuted.
On Tuesday, the Texas Catholic Conference had written to state governor Rick Perry seeking a stay, citing Panetti's “lengthy history of mental illness, his delusional behavior while defending himself at trial in 1995, and the multiple diagnoses from mental health professionals confirming his severe mental illness,” as well as noting the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Christ “teaches that a true neighbor is one who shows mercy.”
“Showing mercy does not mean neglecting to administer justice or punish people for their crimes. Showing mercy does mean exhibiting compassion toward all of our brothers and sisters, and providing them with an opportunity for atonement and rehabilitation,” added the Catholic conference, which called for Panetti’s sentence to be commuted for him to obtain appropriate medical treatment for mental illness.
“While government has an obligation to protect the community from violent offenders, it also bears a responsibility to ensure justice and proper treatment for our brothers and sisters suffering from mental illness,” the conference said.
Opponents of the execution include his ex-wife, who signed a petition against the execution, and over 20 conservative leaders who opposed the execution in a joint letter.
The Texas Catholic Conference’s Texas Mercy Project has written a prayer asking for mercy for Panetti, and for mercy and compassion from those with authority over his execution.