Scott Panetti has been diagnosed with severe mental illness for more than 30 years. His mental illness manifested itself at least a decade before the murder of his wife's parents, a crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. It is uncontested that Panetti's delusions center on his belief that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan, working through Texas officials, to stop him from saving the souls of the condemned.
Seven years ago, in Panetti v. Quarterman, the Supreme Court held that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's standard for assessing competency for execution was unconstitutional. When directed to reconsider Panetti's case, the Fifth Circuit again held that he was competent for execution — despite the district court's findings that he has severe mental illness and suffers from paranoid delusions about the reasons for his execution. Panetti's petition for a writ of certiorari is now pending at the Supreme Court.
The principle that it is unconstitutional to execute individuals who are insane is ingrained in American law. In Ford v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court in 1986 observed: "Whether its aim be to protect the condemned from fear and pain without comfort of understanding, or to protect the dignity of society itself from the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance, the restriction [against executing the insane] finds enforcement in the Eighth Amendment."
The Supreme Court established standards to assess whether severely mentally ill inmates are competent to be executed in a 1986 case, Ford v. Wainwright; more via Oyez. The Court revisited the ruling in 2007 in Panetti v. Quarterman is via Oyez.