Monday, February 11, 2008

Competency Hearing for Scott Panetti

Last week Federal District Judge Sam Sparks presided over a hearing to determine whether Scott Panetti is competent to be executed. In June 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Panetti's execution, ruling that the Fifth Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals had used "an improperly restrictive test" in determining Panetti's competency. The Court also found that Panetti had not received a full and comprehensive competency hearing.

Here are excerpts from an article about the hearing that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman ("Judge must decide whether death row inmate's delusions prevent his execution," February 5, 2007):

"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 aprecise 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. ..."

Read the full article.

Earlier coverage of the Panetti case is available here and here.

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