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November 01, 2014

Washington News Brief: Texas Death Penalty

The ABA expressed concern this month that the state of Texas is poised to execute an inmate Dec. 3 before he is given a meaningful evaluation of his current competency for execution and urged Gov. Rick Perry to stay the execution. Scott Panetti, who faces the death penalty for the murder of his mother-in-law and father-in-law in 1992, has long exhibited signs of mental instability, and it has been seven years since the last hearing to evaluate his competency. “Mr. Panetti’s illness has been a significant and debilitating factor in virtually every stage of his adult life,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote in a Nov. 6 letter to Perry. Susman explained that at his trial Panetti “insisted on defending himself in a costume…and attempted to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ,” adding that medical records “demonstrate his belief that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan in order to prevent him from preaching the Gospel of Christ to the condemned.” Susman said that a decision to grant a stay for further review would be well–supported. The ABA does not have a position on the death penalty per se but supports a “fair and accurate justice system” and has “specific concerns about the lack of meaningful consideration of Mr. Panetti’s current mental health.” In 2007, the ABA filed an amicus curiae brief for the Panetti v. Quarterman case to challenge Texas’ competency standard for execution. Susman explained that policies in the ABA Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards regarding evaluations of a convict’s current mental condition might be helpful in guiding Texas’ consideration of Panetti’s claims. In addition, ABA policy adopted in 2006 calls for an evaluation of whether a death-sentenced prisoner “has a mental disorder or disability that significantly impairs his or her capacity to understand the nature and purpose of the punishment, or to appreciate the reason for its imposition in the prisoner’s own case.”

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