Attorneys for schizophrenic death row inmate Scott Louis Panetti on Thursday asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt his impending Dec. 3 execution, claiming their client is too incompetent to be legally put to death.
“This is not a last-minute filing designed to delay the execution,” wrote Kathryn Kase of Houston, Panetti’s volunteer attorney. “Nor is his claim frivolous. He has made a colorable showing that he is not competent to be executed.”
In their filing, Kase of the Texas Defender Service and co-counsel Gregory Wiercioch of the University of Wisconsin Law School, detail a Nov. 6 visit with their client and interviews with Texas Department of Criminal Justice staff. Both, they say, reveal how Panetti’s mental state is deteriorating. Panetti was last assessed for competency to stand execution nearly seven years ago.
The 56-year-old’s paranoid delusions in recent years, they write, have included believing that someone is putting “Satanic graffiti” on his cell walls, and that TDCJ is watching him through pumpkin decorations at the Polunsky Unit where he is detained.
This stay request is the latest, rushed chapter in what has been a 22-year legal odyssey for Panetti, who has seen execution dates come and go before.
In 2004, he was granted a stay the day before his scheduled execution. In 2007, one of his appeals made it to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that mentally ill inmates can be executed only if they understand what is about to happen and why. Because Panetti's competency has not been assessed since 2007, his attorneys claim, there’s no way to know if he meets that test.
This plea to the state's highest criminal court came after state District Judge Keith Williams of the 216th District Court in Gillespie County denied a request to change Panetti's execution date so he could undergo a new competency assessment. Kase said she and her co-counsel were not even notified of the Dec. 3 execution date, and learned of it two weeks after it was set, on Oct. 30.
Panetti, a Wisconsin native, was sentenced to death in 1995 after representing himself at trial and dressing up in a cowboy suit in court. Court documents show he has had been hospitalized a dozen times for mental illness and, at the time of the murders of Joe Gaitan Alvarado Jr. and Amanda Carrion Alvarado, was collecting federal disability checks.
A separate clemency request filed a week ago to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry bears the support of Texas lawmakers, mental health officials, Christian leaders, former federal prosecutors, judges, former Texas. Gov. Mark White and former U.S. Congressman and presidential candidate, Ron Paul.
“The circumstances of this case present a situation where execution does not serve the state of Texas. Respectfully I request that you grant clemency in this case,” wrote Paul.