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Executing Mentally Ill Scott Panetti Would Cross the Line of Common Decency

Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system.

This is the enduring image of Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man on death row in Texas: a paranoid schizophrenic wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume; on trial for his life; insisting on defending himself without counsel; attempting to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raising an insanity defense. At one point, he cross-examined his own alter-ego, Sarge, answering his own questions on-stand, in a different voice.

Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system. But if Texas has its way, Mr. Panetti will be executed on December 3, 2014.

Believing that the execution of Scott Panetti would cross a moral line, a diverse group of unlikely allies from across the political spectrum, including mental health professionals and organizations, faith leaders, conservatives, legal experts, and former prosecutors are banding together to urge Governor Rick Perry to stop Panetti’s execution.

You can add your name to the effort to stop Mr. Panetti’s execution here.

As this powerful documentary shows, Panetti first showed signs of mental illness over 14 years before the offense for which he was sentenced to death. Doctors repeatedly diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, and his condition continued to deteriorate.

In 1986, he developed the delusion that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. As he grew obsessed with the idea the devil was in the house, he began trying to exorcise it, at one point burying his furniture in his backyard because he believed it was possessed. Two years before his crime, he was involuntary committed for homicidal behavior and was found to be suffering from delusions and psychotic religiosity. But the mental health system failed him, and, in the grips of his severe illness, he committed a terrible crime against his family members.

Today, Panetti suffers from a fixed delusion that Satan is working through the state of Texas to kill him in order to stop him from preaching Christ’s word.  He has no rational understanding of the actual relationship between his crime and the punishment he now faces.

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