Although Scott Panetti has a long history of mental illness and insists that Texas is working in cooperation with Satan to execute him as a way to keep him from preaching the gospel, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has declared him sane enough to be executed. The panel acknowledged that Panetti is mentally ill and might lack a rational understanding of his fate, but maintained that Panetti is able to understand the basis for his execution. The full court will soon decide whether to re-hear Panetti’s case.

Panetti has been in and out of mental institutions nearly all of his life, and he became addicted to drugs and alcohol as a child. When he faced the death penalty in 1995 for the murder of his estranged wife’s parents, he chose to represent himself. During his trial, he wore cowboy outfits to court, delivered rambling monologues, put himself on the witness stand, and sought to subpoena the pope, Jesus, and John F. Kennedy. He also addressed himself to the jury as “the born-again April Fool,” a schizophrenic healed by God. Jurors quickly became alienated by Panetti’s actions, and it took them little more than one hour to reject his insanity defense. They found that he understood right from wrong and deserved the death penalty. Keith Hampton, Panetti’s attorney, said the case has troubled him since the trial, noting, “I thought there was no way, no way, no matter how bad things in the state of Texas got, that it would allow someone in the full flower of schizophrenia to represent himself.”

According to the Texas Defender Service, courts have spared the lives of only seven inmates based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1986 ruling in Ford v. Wainwright prohibiting the execution of the insane. Percy Walton, another mentally ill inmate, is scheducled for execution in Virginia on June 8.

(New York Times, June 2, 2006). See Mental Illness.