Federal Court Stops Execution of Man Suffering ‘Pervasive, Severe Form of Schizophrenia’

Gavel with open book and scales on table

Gavel with open book and scales on table

By The Vanguard Staff

AUSTIN, TX – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas this week found Scott Panetti—a person who “suffers from a pervasive, severe form of schizophrenia that causes him to inaccurately perceive the world around him,” said his defense—is not competent for execution.

Gregory W. Wiercioch, Panetti’s attorney, said in his statement, the judge “did the right thing today in finding that Scott Panetti is not competent for execution. Judge (Robert) Pitman’s ruling prevents the State of Texas from exacting vengeance on a person who suffers from a pervasive, severe form of schizophrenia that causes him to inaccurately perceive the world around him.”

The attorney noted, “The Eighth Amendment bars the execution of people who, like Mr. Panetti, are severely mentally ill and do not understand the reason for their punishment. Ford v. Wainwright (1986); Panetti v. Quarterman (2007). 

“His symptoms of psychosis interfere with his ability to rationally understand the connection between his crime and his execution. For that reason, executing him would not serve the retributive goal of capital punishment and would simply be a miserable spectacle. His execution would offend humanity.”

According to the case record, “In August 1992, Panetti’s second wife, Sonja, separated from Panetti due to his drinking and violent behavior against her and their three-year old daughter. Sonja took their daughter and moved in with her parents, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, who lived nearby. (Later) Panetti drove to his in-law’s house and murdered them in front of his wife and daughter.”

The court noted “the record supports a finding that Panetti’s well-documented mental illness, exacerbated by grandiose delusions and disorganized thought, prevent him from understanding the link between his crime and his impending execution.”

The court acknowledge, “Panetti expressed a strong belief that the State intends to execute him for two reasons: (1) to cover up the conspiracy he uncovered in Fredericksburg concerning pedophilia, corruption, and drug trafficking, and (2) to prevent him from preaching and ‘saving souls.’ In both, Panetti believes the devil has ‘blinded’ the State of Texas and is using the State to kill him to achieve these goals.”

 The court admitted, “All of the experts noted that Panetti’s thought and speech disorganization made it nearly impossible for him to follow a logical train of thought for more than two or three sentences. This inability to apply logic and linear thought necessarily impacts Panetti’s ability to understand the world around him, including his impending execution.”

The court concluded, “He has no capacity to understand or comprehend the State’s rationale for his execution. Therefore, the Court finds that Panetti is not competent to be executed for his crimes.”

Judge Pitman added, “There are several reasons for prohibiting the execution of the insane, including the questionable retributive value of executing an individual so wracked by mental illness that he cannot comprehend the ‘meaning and purpose of the punishment,’ as well as society’s intuition that such an execution ‘simply offends humanity.’

“Scott Panetti is one of these individuals. It is undisputed that Panetti is severely mentally ill, suffering from chronic schizophrenia for over forty years. As discussed in this opinion, the evidence before the Court also indicates that Panetti’s mental illness prevents him from rationally understanding the State’s reasons for executing him. 

“For these reasons, the Court finds that Scott Panetti is not competent to be executed under the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment set forth by the Eighth Amendment.”

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