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The Brief: Dec. 3, 2014

An execution planned for Wednesday evening is focusing attention on the use of the death penalty on those with serious mental illness.

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The Big Conversation

An execution planned for Wednesday evening is focusing attention on the use of the death penalty on those with serious mental illness. Scott Louis Panetti, 56, is facing execution for killing his in-laws in 1992. As the Tribune's Terri Langford reports, Panetti was a diagnosed schizophrenic when he was 20. And at his trial, he showed unusual behavior.

"Panetti represented himself during his capital murder trial, sometimes dressed in a cowboy outfit," Langford writes. "He rejected an offer to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, and instead put on an insanity defense although he called no mental health witnesses. Panetti did try to call President John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and Jesus Christ as witnesses."

In recent days, a wide coalition — including evangelical Christians, conservative leaders, the American Bar Association, former prosecutors, mental health professionals and Democratic lawmakers — has urged that Panetti be spared, at least for now, writes Chuck Lindell of the Austin American-Statesman.

Lindell wrote that some are seeing the Panetti case as the right opportunity for the country to stop the execution of those with mental illness. The appeals process spurred Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Tom Price to declare himself opposed to the death penalty in general.

Price wrote in a dissent last month that “it is inconceivable to me how the execution of a severely mentally ill person such as (Panetti) would measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes purportedly served by the death penalty.”

The Day Ahead

•    Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott holds a 2 p.m. press conference in Austin to discuss President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration.

•    Texas Gov. Rick Perry will be joined by Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw for an 11 a.m. news conference at the state Capitol on border security.

•    The joint select committee on ethics laws meets at 9:30 a.m. in the Capitol Extension to take public testimony. (agenda)

•    The House Insurance Committee meets at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Extension to discuss interim charges on the Affordable Care Act as well as how to improve the health care marketplace, the state's auto insurance market and the state's worker compensation system. (agenda)

Trib Must-Reads

In Austin, City Council Runoff Elections Big on Drama, by Edgar Walters and Christine Ayala

In SD-18 Debate, Kolkhorst Touts Conservatism, by Bobby Blanchard

Homeland Security Secretary: New Border Measures Coming, by Julián Aguilar


Greg Abbott expected to sue Barack Obama, then meet him, Austin American-Statesman

AG says Dallas County minimum wage rule could be illegal, The Dallas Morning News

State lawmakers poised for pay bump, San Antonio Express-News

Exclusive: New U.S. oil and gas well November permits tumble nearly 40 percent, Reuters

Tomlinson: Saudi Arabia's inaction is not about U.S. shale drilling, Houston Chronicle

Texas County Clerks Prepare for Same-Sex Marriages, Texas Observer

Texas, feds reach agreement on health care funding, Corpus Christi Caller-Times

University of Texas looks for clues after 100 human brains are lost, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

"Texas students shouldn't lose instruction time for holding gun-shaped Pop-Tart snacks at school. This bill will fix this."

— State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, on his legislation protecting kids who choose to nibble their favorite pastry into the shape of firearms

Today in TribTalk

Space, the final health care frontier, by Dorit Donoviel

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation With Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Dec. 4 at The Austin Club

•    The Texas Tribune Festival presents a one-day symposium previewing the 84th Legislature on Dec. 5 at the Austin Community College Highland Campus in Austin

•    A Panel Discussion on the Transformation of Medical Education in Texas, on Dec. 9 at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.

•    Meet the New Guys: A Conversation With Incoming Members of the Texas Senate on Dec. 11 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With U.S. Rep.-elect Will Hurd on Dec. 18 in Austin

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Energy Environment Health care Politics Greg Abbott Lois Kolkhorst Ryan Guillen