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Lawyers Seek New Exam for Death Row Client

Lawyers for a schizophrenic Texas death row inmate want their client evaluated before his scheduled execution next month.

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A schizophrenic Texas death row inmate set for execution in December hasn't been evaluated in nearly seven years, and his mental state may not allow him to be legally put to death, his attorneys argued in an emergency court motion filed Monday.

Scott Louis Panetti, 56, was sentenced to death for the 1992 shooting deaths of his in-laws, Joe Gaitan Alvarado Jr. and Amanda Carrion Alvarado of Kerr County. At the time, Panetti was a diagnosed schizophrenic and collected federal disability checks because he could not work. 

"The currently scheduled execution date must be withdrawn," lawyers Gregory W. Wiercioch of the University of Wisconsin Law School and Kathryn M. Kase of the Texas Defender Service in Houston told the Kerr County court where Panetti was convicted. 

In one of Panetti's previous appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mentally ill inmates can be executed as long as they understand what is about to happen and why. Panetti's mental state has not been evaluated since 2007, his attorneys wrote, so there's no way to know if he meets that test.

In previous appeals, state experts have claimed that Panetti may be faking some of his symptoms. Defense attorneys have countered that Panetti, first diagnosed with the early stages of schizophrenia in 1978, was hospitalized for mental illness more than a dozen times before the murders.

His lawyers also complained in Monday's motion that the judge and prosecutors did not tell them Panetti's execution had been set for Dec. 3. The date was set on Oct. 16, but Panetti's lawyers learned of it from an Oct. 30 newspaper story.

State District Judge N. Keith Williams did not immediately return a call from The Texas Tribune seeking comment.

Kase said she is asking Williams to hold a hearing immediately to discuss withdrawing or modifying the execution date to protect Panetti's right to due process.

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