Execution of Murderer Halted

Just hours before he was scheduled to die, death row inmate and convicted murderer Scott Panetti’s execution was halted by the courts. The convicted murderer, who killed his in-laws over 20 years ago, and was due to die by lethal injection. He just missed his impending execution when courts determined that they need more time to consider legal issues regarding the case before his execution.

Panetti has suffered from mental illness his entire life, his first mental health diagnosis being recorded over 14 years before he murdered his in-laws. He was hospitalized in over a dozen hospitals for his odd behavior over a dozen year span before committing the murders. The most severe of disorders that he had been diagnosed with is schizophrenia, a disorder that can cause an individual to hear voices and to have hallucinations. Sometimes these voices may tell the person to do things, or the hallucinations may scare a person into reacting out of fear. He had also been diagnosed with manic depression, auditory hallucinations and paranoia long before the murders occurred.

During the summer of 1992, Panetti and his then wife Sonja Alvarado separated due to Panetti’s alcoholism and abusive behaviors. Sonja had taken her three-year old daughter to stay with her parents in Texas. On the morning of September 8, 1992, Panetti, dressed in army fatigues and a freshly shaven head, broke into the Alvarado’s home. He then shot Sonja’s parents, Amanda and Joe Alvarado, at close range with a sawn off shotgun. He allowed his wife and daughter to leave the home unharmed. His wife would later come to agree with the defense, that her husband should not be deemed fit for trial due to his mental state. It would be declarations such as these that would play a part in the halt of the execution of the murderer.

In July of 1994, there was a trail to determine whether or not Panetti was competent to stand trial which was determined to be a mistrial when the jury was unable to come to reach a verdict. The second trial was the following September and Panetti’s lawyer claimed that he was not able to communicate with his client due to his delusional thinking. During that same trial, a psychiatrist for the defense agreed that Panetti was not competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist for the prosecutor agreed that Panetti’s delusions could interfere with his ability to communicate with council and also agreed with Panetti’s prior diagnosis of schizophrenia; however, he deemed Panetti competent to stand trial. The jury agreed and the case was sent to trial.

The trial took place in September of 1995. Panetti chose to represent himself in the court proceedings. The court proceedings would turn out to be very strange in the eyes of those who had the chance to witness it. Panetti was trying to subpoena people, such as JFK and Jesus Christ, as witnesses for his defense. He wore strange outfits and would engage in bizarre ramblings that would cause the jury and witnesses to become disgusted and annoyed at his behaviors. The trial would result in Panetti being found guilty and sentenced to execution by lethal injection.

Panetti’s current lawyer, Katheryn Kase claims that her clients mental health is continuously deteriorating and at a rapid rate. Since there hasn’t been an evaluation to determine Panetti’s mental health state in over seven years, one should be done to determine if he understands his punishment of execution, Kase states. Not only are his lawyers, now ex-wife, and family fighting for Panetti’s sentence to be overturned, so are advocates, mental health professionals, and members of the American Bar Association. For now the execution of the murderer has been halted, the question is for how long?

By Kelli Patterson

The Houston Chronicle
National Journal
Pierce County Herald
International Justice Project
National Institute of Mental Health
Photo courtesy of Ken Piorkowski Flickr Page- Flickr License

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