Court issues stay to prevent Texas from executing mentally ill man

Conservatives including former Rep. Ron Paul and Gary Bauer have argued Texas should not execute schizophrenic killer Scott Panetti.
By Frances Burns  |  Dec. 3, 2014 at 6:00 AM
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AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- With Scott Panetti's execution hours away in Texas, lawyers for the mentally ill man filed last-ditch appeals Tuesday and won a stay of execution from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

UPDATE: Texas will not appeal stay of execution

Panetti's lawyers were running out of options. They had asked Gov. Rick Perry for a stay and filed an appeal for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to proceed with the execution.

The Circuit Court's stay came across mid-day Wednesday. Panetti's execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. It's not clear if Perry would have blocked the execution had all the other options run out.

A number of conservatives have weighed in against the execution, joining unlikely allies like United Nations human rights lawyers. They include former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families and president of American Values.

On Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News weighed in withan editorial, "Panetti and the insanity of executiing the seriously mentally ill." The newspaper contrasted the hard line on Panetti with the treatment of Bernhardt Tiede II, the inspiration for the movie "Bernie." The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which ruled against Panetti, threw out Tiede's life sentence for killing a wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent, finding last week that jurors should have been told he had been sexually abused as a child.

There is no doubt Panetti, 56, shot his wife's parents in 1992. There is also little doubt that he has a long history of mental illness dating back to 1978, when he was first diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

"What makes Scott Panetti different is this long history that is so well documented in his medical records -- a long history of a severe, debilitating mental illness," Kathryn Kase of the Texas Defender Service told the Los Angeles Times. "He thinks the prison system implanted a listening device in his teeth and knows what he's going to do before he does it. He's all wrapped up in this delusion that the prison system wants to 'rub him out' for trying to convert these heathens and preach the gospel."

But lawyers for the state of Texas argue he does not meet the standard laid down for mental illness by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Panetti knows that he killed his in-laws, while his wife and child looked on, and he knows that he has been sentenced to die for that crime," the Texas attorney general's office said in a court filing.

Panetti's last psychiatric evaluation was in 2007. His lawyers have also asked a U.S. appeals court to order another one, which would delay the execution.

Unless Perry or the courts intervene, Panetti is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the state prison in Huntsville.

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