Federal Court Orders Texas to Hold Off Execution of Mentally Ill Man
Order comes just hours before scheduled lethal injection
A federal court of appeals on Wednesday issued a stay of execution for Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti just hours before the man diagnosed with severe mental illness was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.
The Texas Tribune reports:
A two-sentence stay was released by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, one of two courts considering appeals from Scott Louis Panetti's defense team.
"We STAY the execution pending further order of the court to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter," the appeals court order stated. "An order setting a briefing schedule and oral argument will follow."
Panetti, 56, was to be executed Wednesday night for the 1992 shooting deaths of his in-laws, Joe and Amanda Alvarado of Kerr County.
In a statement, Panetti's lawyers Gregory Wiercioch and Kathryn Kase welcomed the court's ruling. "We are grateful that the court stayed tonight’s scheduled execution of Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia for three decades, for a careful review of the issues surrounding his competency," they said. "Mr. Panetti's illness, schizophrenia, was present for years prior to the crime, profoundly affected his trial, and appears to have worsened in recent years. Mr. Panetti has not had a competency evaluation in seven years, and we believe that today's ruling is the first step in a process which will clearly demonstrate that Mr. Panetti is too severely mentally ill to be executed."
The Texas Attorney General's office has pushed forward with the execution despite national outcry over the case and efforts to have Texas Governor Rick Perry intervene have been met with silence.
According to the Huffington Post:
The Texas Tribune reported on Monday that Kase and Wiercioch had asked the circuit court to intervene in the case, in addition to going to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the strongest pressure has been on Gov. Rick Perry (R). Unlike in other states, the Texas governor can't single-handedly commute a prisoner's sentence. Perry could, however, have ordered Panetti's execution to be delayed for 30 days so that a new mental health assessment could be conducted.
Panetti's case has attracted support from mental health reform advocates and death penalty opponents, as well as from a number of well-known conservatives.