Mental Illness: Schizophrenia
Execution Date: United States Supreme Court rules in favour of Panetti
Update: Scott Panetti has been found competent to be executed
Scott Panetti was tried for the capital murder of Joe Alvarado and Amanda Alvarado, his parents-in-law on September 8, 1992 in Gillespie County, Texas. He was subsequently sentenced to death on September 22, 1995. Panetti has an extensive history of mental illness, including schizophrenia, manic depression, auditory hallucinations and paranoia. Panetti was hospitalized, both voluntarily and involuntarily for mental illness fourteen times in six different hospitals before his arrest for capital murder in 1992. Following his conviction, Panetti’s former wife, and daughter of the victims, Sonja Alvarado, filed a petition stating that Panetti never should have been tried for the crimes as he was suffering from paranoid delusions at the time of the killings.
Most recently arguments before the courts have focussed upon whether Mr Panetti's mental illness prevents his execution under the Eight Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected these arguments and an appeal was lodged in the United States Supreme Court. To read the cert petition click here.
On 7 January 2007, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. The question before the Court was whether the Eight Amendment permitted the execution of an individual who has a factual awareness of the reason for his execution but who, because of mental illness has a delusional belief as to why the state is executing him and thus does not appreciate that the execution is a direct consequence of the capital crime committed.
On 28 June 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower court's ruling on the basis that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had employed an improperly restrictive test when it considered Mr Panetti's claim of incompetency on the merits. To read the Court's decision click here.
On 15 August 2007, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the District Court for the Western District of Texas. On 26 March 2008 Federal Judge Sam Sparks held that Scott Panetti was competent to be executed. In his judgment he concluded that:
"Panetti was mentally ill when he committed his crime and continues to be mentally ill today. However, he has both a factual and rational understanding of his crime, his impending death, and the causal retributive connection between the two. Therefore, if any mentally ill person is competent to be executed for his crimes, this record establishes it is Scott Panetti."
The Court's decision is in two parts, to access it click part 1 and part 2.