HOUSTON (AP) — Attorneys for a Texas death row inmate set for execution next week have said they will ask a federal appeals court to halt the punishment, arguing the prisoner is too delusional for lethal injection.
Lawyers for Scott Panetti, 56, filed notice they would appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a district judge late Wednesday rejected their request to delay the execution, scheduled for Dec. 3 in Huntsville. They’re seeking a new round of mental evaluations to bolster claims Panetti is incompetent for execution. Texas courts earlier this week also refused to stop Panetti’s lethal injection.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled new claims that allege Panetti’s mental condition is deteriorating are similar to those he considered and rejected in 2008.
Sparks said while Panetti’s behavior “is certainly strange, it is not measurably different from behavior documented in the records scrupulously examined by this court” nearly seven years ago. He noted that he’s twice approved money for expert examinations of Panetti’s mental condition and twice held competency hearings.
One of Panetti’s attorneys, Kathryn Kase, said that during a two-hour visit with her early this month he couldn’t carry on a coherent conversation and talked of hearing voices.
“The symptoms of his psychotic mental illness have grown worse,” she argued.
State attorneys said Panetti’s competency has been thoroughly examined and his lawyers could have raised their issues earlier instead of waiting until his execution was approaching.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a condemned inmate must have a factual and rational understanding of why he’s facing execution.
Sparks, in his ruling, referred to arguments from state attorneys pointing out Panetti’s interactions differed when the inmate spoke with mental health experts, cooperating with those representing his interests but refusing state experts.
Panetti also has a clemency petition before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. No action is expected on that until at least Monday.
Panetti was convicted of fatally shooting his in-laws, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, in front of his estranged wife and young children. His wife was living with her parents, and a week before the 1992 shootings she obtained a court order to keep Panetti away.
His 1995 trial attracted notoriety when he chose to be his own lawyer, insisting only an insane person could prove insanity, then wore a cowboy outfit to court and sought to subpoena dozens of witnesses, including Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy. He ignored a standby attorney ordered by his trial judge to be available to provide assistance.
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