Georgia Executes Warren Hill: SCOTUS Allows Execution to Proceed

The State of Georgia executed Warren Hill today, despite arguments that Mr. Hill was intellectually disabled.  Last minute arguments made to the Supreme Court were unsuccessful.  


The Supreme Court issued orders today in the Hill case are important to all death penalty defense issues as hints regarding how the High Court will be ruling in future cases involving capital punishment. 

There were only two dissents in the Warren Hill matter. Justices Breyer and Sotomayor would have granted the stay of execution.   

Read the SCOTUS orders here and here

Hill's argument was that the case of Hall v. Florida should apply to his case to find unconstitutional Georgia's law that there only be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he is so severely intellectually disabled to be executed.  

Interesting point to consider:  Hill was executed by lethal injection.  The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Glossip v. Gross, where it is argued that lethal injection drug procedures are unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment.


Will Georgia Execute Mentally Challenged Warren Hill?

 Regardless of the protections intended by Atkins v. Virginia, executions continue to proceed in this country of Death Row inmates with significant mental challenges.  It’s something that Terry Lenamon is dedicated to fighting as part of his work in defending individuals facing capital punishment in the death penalty phases of their criminal trials.  

Warren Hill

Sadly, state governments are still proceeding with executions of people suffering serious mental illness or severe mental disability (which some SCOTUS opinions reference as “mental retardation”).  Consider the Texas case of schizophrenic Scott Panetti  with its eleventh hour fight for a stay of execution last month.  
Now, Georgia has set January 27, 2015, as the execution date for Warren Hill,  a man whose intellectual disabilities are not in controversy.  If Hill had been convicted in Florida or Texas, even, he might well not be facing capital punishment because of his mental condition.
However, because Atkins allows each state to set up its own procedures for deciding mental conditions that prevent the death penalty under constitutional law as being cruel and unusual, Georgia is moving forward.
Hill’s lawyers are seeking a stay based upon the argument that this legal standard is unconstitutional in much the same way as the Supreme Court determined in Hall v. Florida concerning the Florida standard.

Death Penalty Around the World: Infographic


Pakistan Death Row Executions Scheduled But 14 Year Old Gets Stay

Pakistan has over 8200 people awaiting execution on the Pakistan Death Row and not all of them are adults.  Terence Lenamon agreed to sign on as a "friend of the court" in an amicus brief that was being presented from U.S. scholars and advocates to the Pakistan government in an attempt to stop the scheduled execution of 14 year old Shafqat Hussein.
Shafqat Hussein was tried in their terrorism court for a crime that did not have anything to do with terrorism, and found guilty after a forced confession.  
He was scheduled to die on January 9, 2014, but international news reports are that his execution date has been stayed by the Pakistani Interior Minister.  
It's safe to assume that efforts like those of Terry Lenamon and others signing that amicus brief and doing other things to spotlight what is happening in Shafqat Hussein's case (among others in Pakistan) has helped to stop Friday's scheduled execution.  
Meanwhile, many more on the Pakistan Death Row are facing execution as the government lifted its 6 year six-year moratorium and began an execution schedule late last month.
The Pakistan Government has a goal to empty its Death Row -- and reports are that it plans on executing 500 people in the first three months of 2015.
Execution method:  hanging

Happy New Year from Terence Lenamon



Will Florida Executors Be Revealed? Proposed Law Seeks Their Identity

Up in Tallahassee, there’s a new bill that will be considered in the 2015 session of the Florida House:  if it is passed into law, it will force the State of Florida to reveal the names of those people who act as executioners in Florida death penalty executions.

Right now, no one knows who these people are. This is not traditional, historically.

While there were those black-hooded executioners, the identity of most executioners over time has been known to the public. The man who beheaded Lady Jane Grey, for instance, was not secret (read an eyewitness account of that execution, where her last conversation was with her executioner).

Ditto those who took Marie Antoinette to the French Guillotine (her execution seen in the image below)


Florida Bill HB 4003

If HB 4003 is passed, then those who want to do away with capital punishment think that they will be one step closer to ending the death penalty in Florida. Why? Well, for one thing, Florida executes with lethal injection and we would all know the amount of medical training (or lack thereof) of the state executioners.

Remember Oklahoma’s botched lethal injection execution? It’s a big question now in that state — what training or expertise did that executioner have?

Here is the synopsis of the proposed law to reveal the name and identity of Florida executioners (for the full 36 page text of the proposed law go here):

HB 4003 — Death Penalty

Death Penalty: Deletes provisions providing for death penalty for capital felonies; deletes associated provisions, including provisions relating to representation in death penalty cases, capital collateral representation, jurors in capital cases, prohibiting imposition of death sentence on defendant with mental retardation, determination of whether to impose sentence of death or life imprisonment for capital felony or capital drug trafficking felony, issuance of warrant of execution, stay of execution of death sentence, proceedings when person under sentence of death appears to be insane, proceedings when person under sentence of death appears to be pregnant, grounds for death warrant, execution of death sentence, prohibition against reduction of death sentence as result of determination that method of execution is unconstitutional, sentencing orders in capital cases, regulation of execution, transfer to state prison for safekeeping before death warrant issued, return of warrant of execution issued by Governor, sentence of death unexecuted for unjustifiable reasons, & return of warrant of execution issued by Supreme Court.


2014 Florida Death Penalty Report by DPIC

The Death Penalty Information Center has published its year-end report regarding the Death Penalty in the United States.  Florida (and Texas) figure prominently in the study.  

Read the full text here, and the New York Times coverage of the DPIC report here.


Must Read: Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts' Op-Ed

 Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his work, and his column is published twice a week in the Miami Herald.  

Recently, Mr Pitts expressed his opinion on capital punishment in this country in a piece that Terry Lenamon thought should be shared here, for those interested in the death penalty and how it is implemented regarding the mentally ill - specifically, Scott Panetti:




The State of Texas was set to execute Scott Panetti today at six o'clock - but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just issued a stay of execution - here is the single page issued from the federal appellate court this morning:



Terry Lenamon deals with the issues of death penalty sentencing and the seeking of capital punishment for those defendants who suffer from mental illness as part of his practice.

Panetti is diagnosed to suffer from schizophrenia.  Should the death penalty apply in his case?

Key to this case is the Texas legal perspective regarding cognition of right vs wrong on the part of the defendant and the federal constitutional prohibition against execution of the mentally ill via the Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Currier & Ives: Home to Thanksgiving, 1867 


New Death Penalty Study Released: "Death Row USA"

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund released its Fall 2014 study of capital punishment in the United States recently.  

Entitled "Death Row USA," it is available to read online here.

In the report, Florida continues to have the second largest Death Row population in the country (only California has more), followed by Texas, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.  

No surprise there, right? 


Discovery Channel - MIchel Escoto Case: "I'll Have What She's Having"


The Discovery Channel has dramatized the Escoto case (see our earlier posts for Terence Lenamon's defense of Michel Escoto and background on the case).  

It's called "I'll Have What She's Having."

(You may recall that Dateline also did an episode on this murder trial, entitled "Mystery in South Beach"  earlier this year. 

Check it out! 

From the Discovery Channel, this description:

Charming Michel is living a cozy family life with loyal girlfriend Yolanda. When he starts classes at beauty school, he also launches into a steamy relationship with a younger woman. It’s a three way love affair that will have fatal consequences.



Read Statement from Lawyers for Texas Death Row's Scott Panetti on 12/3 Execution Status

Terry Lenamon received the following information from Kathryn Kase regarding her fight to stop Scott Panetti from being executed by the State of Texas, and we are sharing the following here:

Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti from Off Center Media on Vimeo.


On Thursday, November 6, 2014, the trial court judge in Kerrville, Texas refused to withdraw or modify the December 3, 2014 execution date for Scott Panetti.

Below is a statement from Kathryn Kase, one of Mr. Panetti’s attorneys and Executive Director of Texas Defender Service, followed by background about the case.

Statement from Kathryn Kase, attorney for Scott Panetti:

“Texas has conducted itself disgracefully in the case of Scott Panetti, who has had schizophrenia for over thirty years and suffers from a fixed delusion that Satan is trying to kill him through the state of Texas. Yesterday, a judge ruled that Texas will not slow its rush to execute to Mr. Panetti, despite the fact that he has not had a competency hearing in seven years.

“This shameful case has revealed the state's disregard for the dignity of the mentally ill at every turn: from allowing Mr. Panetti to represent himself at his capital trial dressed in a cowboy costume despite his severe mental illness to more recently, when the state did not disclose to Mr. Panetti's attorneys that his execution date had been set. It is extremely troubling that we only learned about the execution date from the media two weeks after the date had been scheduled.

“Mr. Panetti went to death row in 1995 a man who had already been hospitalized over a dozen times for the incurable and devastating illness of schizophrenia; he attempted to represent himself in court through the haze of his ongoing schizophrenia, and he remains a man with schizophrenia and a fixed delusion today. The prospect of his execution, particularly following such a profoundly compromised legal process, is morally reprehensible.”

-Kathryn Kase, attorney for Scott Panetti and Executive Director of Texas Defender Service -November 7, 2014

Case Background

On Monday, November 3, 2014, an Emergency Motion for Hearing was filed in state court by attorneys for Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man scheduled for execution in Texas on December 3, 2014, asking the State withdraw or modify the execution date so that Mr. Panetti is given a meaningful opportunity to contest his competency for execution.

Mr. Panetti has not had a competency hearing in nearly seven years.

Astonishingly, it is noted in the Motion that Mr. Panetti's attorneys learned of the execution date from the newspaper on October 30th -- two weeks after the date was set, apparently in secret, with no notice whatsoever to the lawyers who have represented Mr. Panetti for nearly a decade.

"The State has an unequivocal, constitutional duty in every case to pursue justice -- not a conviction, not an execution, not a win at all costs. By not informing attorneys that an execution date had been set, the State has fallen woefully short of that duty in Scott Panetti's case,” said Greg Wiercioch, counsel of record for Mr. Panetti.

“The State's conduct would be disturbing if this were a routine case. But it is unconscionable in a death penalty case where the District Attorney himself did not believe Scott Panetti was competent to represent himself at trial,” said Mr. Wiercioch.

The Motion states, “[t]here can be no serious dispute that, because of Mr. Panetti’s long-standing and incurable psychotic disorder, he meets the threshold showing that entitles him to the appointment of two experts and an evidentiary hearing under Article 46.05 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,’ and that “[t]he U. S. Supreme Court held – in Mr. Panetti’s own case – that the procedure for determining a prisoner’s competency for execution must comport with due process under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.” (page 2)

“Mr. Panetti’s severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case. His execution now would cross a moral line and serve no penological purpose. It is reasonable and necessary for a competency hearing to take place before the State wrongly executes someone who is clearly incompetent for execution,” said Kathryn Kase, co-counsel for Mr. Panetti.

Three-Decade History of Severe Psychosis and Delusions

Mr. Panetti has suffered from extreme mental illness for over 30 years. He was hospitalized a dozen times for psychosis and delusions in the six years leading up to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

The first time Mr. Panetti showed signs of being afflicted with a psychotic disorder was in 1978, over 14 years before the crime. During his multiple hospitalizations, doctors diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder and proscribed antipsychotic medication.

In 1986, Mr. Panetti first succumbed to the delusion that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. In an affidavit his first wife signed to have him involuntarily committed, she testified that he was obsessed with the idea that the devil was in the house. He engaged in a series of bizarre behaviors to exorcize his home, including burying his furniture in the backyard because he thought the devil was in the furniture.

Two years before the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death, Mr. Panetti was involuntarily committed for homicidal behavior and was found to be suffering from delusions and psychotic religiosity. The crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death also had the hallmarks of a severely disturbed mind.

While off his anti-psychotic medication in 1992, Mr. Panetti shaved his head and dressed in camouflage fatigues before going to his in-laws’ home and committing the offense for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. Detailed information about Mr. Panetti’s medical history can be found in this mental illness timeline starting in 1978 that shows how Mr. Panetti’s mental health degenerated over the years, including how in 1986, the Social Security Administration made a determination that Mr. Panetti was so disabled from schizophrenia that he was entitled to government benefits.

While representing himself at trial in 1995, Mr. Panetti sought over 200 subpoenas, including ones for John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. He wore a TV-Western cowboy costume and a purple bandana.

Mr. Panetti’s statements in court, at both the guilt and sentencing phase, were bizarre and incomprehensible. He took the witnesses stand and testified about his own life in excessive and irrelevant detail. Mr. Panetti announced that he would assume the personality of “Sarge” and recounted the gruesome details of the crime in the third person. He gestured as if pointing a rifle to the jury box (visibly upsetting the jurors) and matter- of-factly imitated the sound of shots being fired.

Fixed Delusion that Texas is Trying to Kill Him for Preaching the Gospel

Mr. Panetti has a fixed delusion that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan, working through the State of Texas, to put an end to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If his execution date is not withdrawn, he will go to the execution chamber convinced that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife’s parents, and the retributive goal of capital punishment will not be served. 


Will Scott Panetti Be Executed in Texas? Another Death Penalty Mental Competency Fight

The State of Texas has scheduled the execution of Scott Panetti for December 3, 2014, despite the fact that Mr. Panetti has been diagnosed to suffer from both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

During his criminal trial, there was quite a bit of hoopla as Scott Panetti represented himself at trial, appearing before the court in what looked to be a cowboy outfit.

Things became more bizarre as he wanted to put the Pope as well as Jesus Christ, President John F. Kennedy, and Anne Bancroft on the witness stand for examination. 



We'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t agree that Scott Panetti is mentally ill.

However, the State of Texas has a test for whether or not someone can be execution that allows Panetti’s capital punishment to go forward. The State’s argument is that since Panetti has been shown to recognize a logical connection between the crime that he committed and the punishment that has been assessed as a result (death), then the execution can legally go forward without violating federal constitutional prohibitions against executing someone who is mentally ill.

This has been a long fight.

Panetti’s case has already been before the United States Supreme Court once: the High Court stayed his execution then on the grounds that the State had failed to consider Panetti’s history of mental illness (which goes back many years).  

For those interested in this subject, the amicus curaie brief filed by the American Psychological Association before the Supreme Court on behalf of Scott Panetti can be read online here. 

Moving once again through the court system, the State won arguments before appellate panels that Panetti is indeed legally competent under the Texas definition.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Panetti’s request to look at his case a second time.

This week, Panetti’s lawyers have filed more arguments here in Texas trying to stop this execution from happening.

Surely justice will prevail. 

Sister Helen Prejean Talk: Preview of Terence Lenamon and Sister Helen on Nov 8

Terence Lenamon will have the honor of being part of a panel discussion on death penalty issues with Sister Helen Prejean next month (see our previous post for time and date details).

As for what that panel discussion might include, check out this video of Sister Helen discussing "Together We Can End the Death Penalty," in San Francisco in a session hosted by the San Francisco Public Defender's Office


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