"High court spares mentally ill killer from execution," is the headline at the Los Angeles Times website.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 today that Texas could not execute a man because his severe mental illness meant that he could not comprehend why he was being executed.
The ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, spared the life of Scott Louis Panetti, 49, who murdered his former in-laws in 1992 after battling mental health problems for years.
Panetti has been on death row in Texas since 1995 and has been diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Both Panetti's lawyers and attorneys for the state said he was mentally disturbed. The question was whether he was sufficiently mentally ill that it would violate the constitutional bar against cruel and unusual punishment to execute him.
Panetti was hospitalized for mental illness 14 times in the decade before he shot to death his former in-laws as his estranged wife and her son watched.
During Panetti's trial, he exhibited bizarre behavior, wearing a purple cowboy suit and 10-gallon hat and subpoenaing President John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and Jesus Christ as witnesses.
Panetti was ruled mentally competent to stand trial and mentally competent to be executed. Before today's ruling, four courts, including the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, rejected pleas by Panetti's lawyers to spare his life.
The case presented a particularly thorny question because evidence was introduced that Panetti was aware that he had killed Amanda and Joe Alvarado. But expert testimony was presented that Panetti, known as "the Preacher" on Texas' death row, believed he was going to be executed because Texas was conspiring with the devil to block him from preaching the Gospel to fellow inmates, not because of the murders of Amanda and Joe Alvarado.
At an oral argument in April, Texas' Solicitor Gen. Ted Cruz asserted that Panetti was capable of understanding the connection between his crime and his punishment and was exaggerating the extent of his delusions.
But defense lawyer Gregory Wiercioch of the Texas Defender Service, told the justices that Panetti did not rationally understand why he was to be executed. Consequently, Wiercioch said that killing Panetti would serve no legitimate retributive purpose.
That view eventually prevailed.
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