Friday, August 23, 2013

Scott Panetti: Ridicule and Execution

Does the United States justice system find mental illness entertaining? Do officials over justice consider it funny to kill mentally disabled citizens? Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty shared a video exposing the trial of Scott Panetti, who was charged with murdering his in-laws on September 8, 1992. The court allowed this untreated man who suffered from severe paranoid schizophrenia to conduct his own defense wearing a cowboy outfit and be sentenced to death.

Panetti's father expressed a loss of faith in the justice system after watching his very sick son try to defend himself. He expected Judge Steven Ables to stop the trial when it was obvious how unprepared Panetti was, but Judge Ables allowed the trial to continue to the end. Perhaps Edith Jones is not the only judge on the who believes that a death sentence provides a public service by allowing an inmate to "make peace with God." See the video below and at YouTube link . News and viewpoints are censored regarding how America mistreats its acute mentally ill citizens.
UPDATE: The video is now at 

December 3, 2014 update: The United Nations requests that the United States commute Panetti's sentence based on human decency and the Convention Against Torture.

Original test resumes: Panetti's appeals have been denied since he was sentenced to execution. Some judges have disdain for defendants who are mentally ill. The Austin Chronicle reports that Justice Edith Jones, who sits on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – based in New Orleans, its jurisdiction includes Texas – made numerous offensive and biased comments during a February lecture at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, according to the complaint filed pursuant to the federal Judicial Conduct and Disability Act. She told law students and other attendees that she thought the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling outlawing the death penalty for the mentally retarded did intellectually disabled individuals a disservice, and that to create such an exemption from execution was a "slippery slope," reads the complaint.

"In describing … what Judge Jones said about these cases, I am not able to capture the complete outrage she expressed over the crimes or the disgust she evinced over the defense raised, particularly by the defendants who claimed to be mentally retarded," reads the declaration, filed with the complaint, of veteran Pennsylvania-based death penalty attorney Marc Bookman, who attended the lecture. "Judge Jones's disgust at how these defendants were 'using mental retardation' was very evident and very disconcerting," reads the complaint. Austin Chronicle Report on Judith Jones

An excerpt from Yahoo Voices described the Panetti trial: "Dressed in costume like one of the actors in an old Western Movie, with a big brimmed cowboy hat hanging on his shoulders by the strap, plaid shirt, bandanna, fancy cowboy boots, and spurs, Scott Panetti proceeded to defend himself, playing out the role of lawyer. The prevailing judge, Ables allowed his court to be turned into a three ring circus as jurors watched, stunned at what they were seeing and hearing, some fearing the man they watched before them."

An attorney who was called by Panetti as a witness shared his observations, stating: “The courtroom had the atmosphere of a circus. The judge just seemed to let Scott run free with his irrational questions and courtroom antics.”

Panetti's ex-wife, whose parents were killed, does not feel that Panetti should die for his crime that resulted from untreated mental illness. And obviously, nobody should defend himself in a capital murder case, especially not a paranoid schizophrenic man dressed as a cowboy. Panetti's trial was an outrageous exercise that has probably provided justice officials many laughs for over 20 years while Scott Panetti awaits the needle on death row in Texas.

Homelessness, prison and death must discontinue being America's answer to acute mental illness. Nobody deserves execution for having a health crisis.