MENTAL ILLNESS: Man Who Defended Himself in a Cowboy Suit Deemed Sane Enough for Execution
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently held that Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti is sane enough to be executed, despite his long history of severe mental illness. Panetti was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of his in-laws. Putting aside Panetti's bizarre behavior in court, the judge allowed him to represent himself at trial, where he wore a purple cowboy suit and subpoenaed Jesus Christ and Anne Bancroft as witnesses. Panetti had been hospitalized 11 times for mental illnes prior to the murders and had been released only 2 months earlier. In a previous ruling, the Fifth Circuit held that Panetti only needed to realize he had committed a crime and was therefore being executed in order to satisfy the Eighth Amendment's ban on executing individuals who are insane. The U.S. Supreme Court stopped the pending execution and held that courts should consider a defendant's complete mental history in determining whether he has a rational understanding of his situation. Panetti has said his execution is a ruse to hide a satanic plot to kill him. The Fifth Circuit relied in part on taped conversations between Panetti and his family to determine his competency.
(J. Smith, "Panetti Sane Enough for Execution," Austin Chronicle, August 22, 2013; see Panetti v. Stephens, No. 08-70015 (5th Cir. Aug. 21, 2013)). See Mental Illness. Listen to DPIC's podcast on Mental Illness.