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Panetti Fate in Hands of Perry, Appeals Courts

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles won't recommend a reprieve for convicted killer Scott Panetti, leaving it up to Gov. Rick Perry to decide if he will delay Wednesday's scheduled execution of the schizophrenic death row inmate.

Death row inmate Scott Panetti.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday declined to recommend a reprieve for convicted killer Scott Panetti, leaving it up to Gov. Rick Perry to decide if he will delay Wednesday's scheduled execution of the schizophrenic death row inmate.

The panel voted 7-0 against granting Panetti a 180-day reprieve, or recommending that Perry commute the 56-year-old's death sentence to life, board spokesman Raymond Estrada said.

The board's recommendation now goes to Perry, who can accept it or issue a 30-day reprieve on his own authority. Panetti is scheduled for execution in Huntsville on Wednesday at 6 p.m. 

Panetti, a Wisconsin native who represented himself at trial and dressed up in a cowboy suit in court, was convicted for the 1992 shooting deaths of his in-laws, Joe Gaitan Alvarado, Jr. and Amanda Carrion Alvarado of Kerr County. At the time of the murders, Panetti had been long diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and collected federal disability checks because he could not work. 

Panetti's lawyers, armed with signatures and letters from religious leaders, prominent lawyers, former Gov. Mark White and former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, sought a reprieve from the panel, saying that Panetti's mental condition has deteriorated in prison and that he is too mentally ill to be legally executed.

Panetti was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1978, the year after he served just 10 months in the U.S. Navy before receiving an honorable discharge.

"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. 

Following the board's decision, Panetti's defense team quickly sent Perry a letter asking for a 30-day delay so that their client could be adequately assessed for competency.

Panetti's defense team has three routes to try to halt the execution.

In addition to seeking a reprieve from Perry, lawyers Kathryn Kase and Gregory Wiercioch have asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to order that the execution be stopped until their client is given a competency exam. Panetti's mental competence has not been assessed in nearly seven years. 

And on Monday, they asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider Panetti's case. The high court has previously ruled that mentally ill inmates cannot be put to death if they do not understand why they are being executed.  

"All courts so far have adjudged Mr. Panetti competent, while noting Mr. Panetti's severe mental illness," the lawyers wrote. "It is indisputable, however, that Mr. Panetti's severe illness impacted both how the jurors evaluated the evidence against Mr. Panetti's ability to be an advocate for himself."

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.

Kase pointed out on Monday that legally, she and her co-counsel could not appeal based on the competency issue until an execution for Panetti was set. She and Wiercioch were not notified by the court that set Panetti's date in mid-October, as is custom, but from a published report about the case on Oct. 30. They immediately began appealing on the competency issue. 

Kase said her client told her during a recent interview that he believes he's being executed because he's preaching the gospel on death row and to keep him from exposing corruption in the prison system.   


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Courts Criminal justice Death penalty Rick Perry