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?
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.
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:
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
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.
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.