Lawyers are appealing to the United States Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to stop the state of Texas from executing their client, Scott Panetti, who has been diagnosed with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia.
Defense lawyers argue that the execution of a mentally ill person, who is unable to fully grasp the sentence, violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Fifty-six-year-old Panetti, scheduled to be killed by lethal injection on Wednesday at 6:00 PM, has for 30 years been diagnosed with severe mental illness. In the six years preceding the crime for which he was convicted, he was hospitalized more than a dozen times for psychosis and delusions, according to his lawyers, who are with the Texas Defender Service.
Panetti represented himself during his 1995 trial for capital murder, during which he donned a cowboy costume and attempted to call over 200 witnesses, including John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ.
A petition from Panetti's sister, which has so far garnered over 90,000 signatures, states: "The trial court should never have allowed Scott to represent himself. He was clearly extremely ill... He passed up a plea deal that would have saved his life. The court could have insisted that an attorney represented my brother, but it did not, and the outcome was his death sentence."
The appeal to the Supreme Court, issued Monday, follows a similar request from Panetti's lawyers to Texas Governor Rick Perry for a 30-day stay of execution after the State Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously rejected their request for a commutation of his sentence.
“Mr. Panetti is a very sick man who has had schizophrenia for decades," said Kathryn Kase, co-counsel for Panetti, and Executive Director of the Texas Defender Service. "Mr. Panetti's severe mental illness has caused concern among numerous judges who issued multiple powerful dissents last week and has galvanized extensive support for relief in his case from the mental health community."
According to Kase, "The widespread support for relief in this case includes not only the mental health community but also leading legal organizations, and others, and is supported by new information regarding sentencing practices, which clearly show a trend against using the death penalty when defendants have severe mental illness, as well as the universal opinion of mental health experts and polling data."
A survey released last week by Public Policy Polling finds that 58 percent of Americans oppose the death penalty for persons with mental illness, while only 28 percent are in favor.
The following video clip, provided by Texas Defender Service, provides background information on the case: