Scott Panetti's lawyers won a major case, Panetti v. Quarterman, in the U.S. Supreme Court last year, which allowed his lawyers to return to federal district court to demonstrate the severity of his mental illness.
A hearing is being held yesterday, and Claire Osburn reports, "Judge must decide whether death row inmate's delusions prevent his execution," in the Austin American-Statesman.
A hearing is being held today in federal court to determine whether a man who killed two people understands why he received the death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Texas on June 28 from executing Scott Panetti, 49, saying that he was improperly denied the chance to prove he is mentally unfit for execution. The ruling returned his case to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin, who must decide whether Panetti's delusions make him unable to understand why he received the death sentence.
Convicted of killing his in-laws in 1992, Panetti believes satanic forces are seeking his execution to keep him from preaching the Gospel, his defense lawyers have testified.
The U.S. Supreme Court, according to the majority decision, ruled that the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment means that inmates must understand why they are being put to death. The ruling did not provide a precise standard for assessing Panetti's claims.
A psychiatrist from the Rusk State Hospital testified today that Panetti is schizophrenic. Dr. David Self said he interviewed Panetti for five hours in November and asked him if he knew why he was on death row. "He said to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ," Self said.
The doctor said he did not think Panetti was faking mental illness because of Panetti's frequent hospitalizations before the killings. Panetti showed signs on mental illness during his interview, Self said, including showing emotions that were more intense than normal, Self said. "His anger would flare and his happiness was just too great," Self said.
Sparks said at the beginning of the hearing that he feels that no matter what decision he makes, the case will be appealed and land back in his court. He said he also has to determine what would happen if Panetti was declared incompetent. "Does that mean he can't be punished at all,?" Sparks said.
It was not know when the judge would reach a decision. The hearing is scheduled to last until at least Thursday.