We have lots of similar headlines, but here they are. Most are new, or updated from yesterday's posts. Chuck Lindell at the Austin American-Statesman has, "High Court blocks Texas death sentence."
The 5-4 ruling returns Panetti's case to Austin, where U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks must determine whether Panetti's delusions make him mentally incompetent to be executed for the 1992 murder of his Fredericksburg in-laws, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, while his estranged wife and 3-year-old daughter watched.
Though Panetti will remain on death row as his case progresses, the ruling should make it easier for mentally ill inmates to avoid execution, lawyers said, because it clarifies rules that bar states from putting insane people to death.
"(Before), all you needed to do is ask the guy, 'Do you know you're on death row?' Even if he thinks he's a giant turtle, if he says yes to that, you can execute the man," said Austin lawyer Keith Hampton, a member of Panetti's legal team.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said it is not enough that inmates understand that they are to be executed — the standard developed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears Texas cases.
Rather, Kennedy wrote, the Constitution's bar against cruel and unusual punishment demands that inmates also understand why they are to be put to death.
"A prisoner's awareness of the state's rationale for an execution is not the same as a rational understanding of it," Kennedy wrote.
"Gross delusions stemming from a severe mental disorder may put . . . a link between a crime and its punishment in a context so far removed from reality that the punishment can serve no proper purpose," he added.
Panetti, who was hospitalized numerous times for schizophrenia and paranoid delusions before killing his in-laws, believes satanic forces are seeking his execution to silence his mission to preach the Gospel, defense experts have testified.
Todd Gillman has, "Supreme Court blocks Texas man's execution," in the Dallas Morning News.
The case posed the issue of how insane a person must be before a death sentence becomes unconstitutional, and marks the fifth time the Supreme Court has reversed a Texas death penalty since October.
At trial Mr. Panetti, now 49, insisted on representing himself. He wore a purple cowboy costume, tried to subpoena Jesus, the pope and John F. Kennedy, and testified in the persona of his alter ego "Sarge." He'd been hospitalized 14 times for mental illness in the decade before the murders, at his in-laws’ Fredericksburg home.
Lawyers handling his appeal argued that few, if any, death row inmates are as mentally incompetent and that putting him to death would amount to “mindless vengeance” with no retributive purpose. Four lower courts did find him competent to stand trial, and a jury rejected his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, found that Mr. Panetti’s mental illness is so severe that it should have been considered by the federal appeals court that handled the case.
“Someone who is condemned to death for an atrocious murder may be so callous as to be unrepentant; so self-centered and devoid of compassion as to lack all sense of guilt; so adept in transferring blame to others as to be considered, at least in the colloquial sense, to be out of touch with reality,” Justice Kennedy wrote, but Mr. Panetti’s problem isn’t merely “a misanthropic personality or an amoral character. It is a psychotic disorder.”
Max Baker has, "Court: Inmate too mentally ill to be executed," in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the 5th Circuit upheld Panetti's conviction, and he was scheduled to be executed in 2004 before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks halted the execution so his competency could be re-evaluated.
Although Sparks agreed that Panetti qualified for execution under the law, his ruling raised questions about the standard being used by the federal appeals court, saying the case arguably "required a more nuanced standard."
"In these cases, the retributive goal of capital punishment is not met, and carrying out an execution in those cases is not befitting a civilized society," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service.
Joining Kennedy in the majority opinion were justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
Patty Reinert and Mike Tollson have, "Texas competency rules too narrow, high court decides," in the Houston Chronicle.
Gregory Wiercioch, an attorney with the Texas Defender Service who argued the case before the court in April, applauded the decision, saying, "Today the Supreme Court recognized that executing Scott Panetti would be a mindless, meaningless and miserable spectacle."
Thursday's ruling expands on the 1986 decision, Ford v. Wainwright, which barred execution of the insane.
Attorney Richard Burr, who brought that case on behalf of Florida inmate Alvin Ford, said the Panetti decision gives the earlier ruling more teeth and meaning.
"It provides much more direction for the states," Burr said. "It's the right next decision in the evolution of the law."
Thursday's ruling is not "going to open up Pandora's box," said Ron Honberg, legal director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Panetti's behalf. "There are not that many people in his condition."
Maro Robbins has, "Supreme Court ruling offers reprieve for Fredericksburg killer," in the San Antonio Express-News.
Kennedy's opinion said the lower courts improperly ignored Scott Panetti's hallucinations and misapplied the law when they decided the inmate was sane enough to be executed.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reached this conclusion after finding Panetti's psychotic beliefs about spiritual warfare didn't matter; the inmate simply needed to know that Texas said it was punishing him for the murders.
This wasn't sufficient to establish Panetti's sanity, the Supreme Court replied Thursday.
Ordering a federal trial judge to review the convict's delusions, the court's majority hinted, but stopped short of saying, that inmates need to rationally understand why they're being executed.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent that was joined by the court's most conservative members, including its newest additions, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.