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Scott Louis PANETTI





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Revenge
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: September 8, 1992
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: February 28, 1958
Victims profile: Joe Gaitan Alvarado, Jr., 55, and Amanda Carrion Alvarado, 56 (his parents-in-law)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Kerr County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on September 25, 1995

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Supreme Court of the United States

Panetti v. Quarterman
USA: "Where is the compassion?" The inminent execution of Scott Panetti


USA (Texas) Scott Louis Panetti (m), aged 45

January 7, 2004

Scott Panetti, white, is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 5 February 2004. He was sentenced to death in 1995 for killing his parents-in-law in 1992. He has a long history of serious mental illness, including schizophrenia. He was hospitalized more than a dozen times in numerous facilities before the crime.

Scott Panetti and his second wife, Sonja Alvarado, separated in August 1992 because of his drinking and abusive behavior. Sonja Alvarado took their three-year-old daughter and went to stay with her parents, Amanda and Joe Alvarado. She obtained a restraining order against her husband. However, on the morning of 8 September 1992, Scott Panetti shaved his head, dressed in military fatigues and drove to the Alvarados' home, taking a sawn-off shotgun and a rifle with him. He broke into the house and shot his parents-in-law at close range with the rifle. He allowed Sonja and their daughter to leave.

Later that day he changed into a suit and gave himself up to the police. He subsequently said that "Sarge" (an auditory hallucination) controlled him at the time of the crime, that divine intervention had meant that the victims did not suffer, and that demons had been laughing at him as he left the house.

In July 1994 a hearing to determine whether Scott Panetti was competent to stand trial - that is, whether he had sufficient mental capacity to understand his situation and to assist in his defense - was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. A second hearing was held in September. His lawyer testified that in the previous two years, he had had no useful communication with Scott Panetti because of his delusional thinking. A psychiatrist for the defense concluded that Panetti was not competent to stand trial.

A psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution agreed with the previous diagnoses of schizophrenia, and that Scott Panetti's delusional thinking could interfere with his communications with his legal counsel, particularly under situations of stress such as in a courtroom. However, he concluded that the defendant was competent to stand trial. The jury agreed.

Scott Panetti then waived his right to counsel, and the case went to trial in September 1995 with the defendant acting as his own lawyer. Scott Panetti dressed as a cowboy during the proceedings, and gave a rambling presentation in his defense.

Numerous people who attended the trial as witnesses have variously described the trial as a "farce", a "joke", a "circus", and a "mockery". In post-conviction affidavits they concluded, from their prior knowledge of Panetti and their observations of him during the proceedings, that he was incompetent to stand trial. For example, a doctor who had previously treated Panetti for his mental illness stated: "I thought to myself 'My God. How in the world can our legal system allow an insane man to defend himself? How can this be just?'"

Another doctor who had treated Scott Panetti for schizophrenia in 1986 concluded that Panetti was "acting out a role of an attorney as a facet of the mental illness, not a rational decision to represent himself". An attorney called by Scott Panetti as a witness later stated: "The courtroom had the atmosphere of a circus. The judge just seemed to let Scott run free with his irrational questions and courtroom antics."

Another lawyer, who was appointed as Panetti's stand-by counsel, wrote in an affidavit: "This was not a case for the death penalty. Scott's life history and long term mental problems made an excellent case for mitigating evidence.

Scott did not present any mitigating evidence because he could not understand the proceeding." He recalled that Panetti had dressed in a costume "like an old TV western", including cowboy hat, trousers tucked into his cowboy boots, and cowboy shirt. The lawyer added that Scott Panetti had "wanted to subpoena Jesus Christ, JFK, actors, actresses, and people who had died... His trial was truly a judicial farce, and a mockery of self-representation. It should never have been allowed to happen".

The lawyer said that he spoke to two jurors who "told me that Scott probably would not have received the death penalty if the case had been handled differently". Another lawyer spoke to two other jurors. They "said that if Scott had been represented by attorneys that he would not have received the death penalty". One of them said that the jurors had voted for death out of their fear of his irrational behavior at the trial. In Texas a jury can only vote for death if they decide that the defendant will pose a future danger to society if allowed to live.

Scott Panetti's father recalled in an affidavit that his son's behavior at the trial had been "very bizarre": "I wanted to tell the judge to stop the trial because my son was sick and incompetent". Scott Panetti's sister said in her affidavit: "I think that justice broke down in my brother's trial. It was not fair to let a mentally ill man be his own attorney when he did not know what he was doing. I am sorry to say that the trial was a farce. It was a circus-like atmosphere. I never expected justice to allow this." Sonja Alvarado, the victims' daughter, has also described the trial as a "circus" and "a big joke". In a 1999 affidavit she said: "I know now that Scott is mentally ill and should not be put to death".

A psychiatrist who evaluated Scott Panetti in 1997 concluded that he suffers from schizoaffective disorder (a combination of schizophrenia and manic depression). This expert added that Panetti's "decision to waive his own counsel was under the influence of persecutory delusions, and his ability to represent himself in court was substantially impaired by disturbances in his thought processes". The psychiatrist further concluded that Panetti had not been competent to stand trial.


A Growing Plea for Mercy for the Mentally Ill on Death Row

By Ralph Blumenthal - The New York Times

November 23, 2006

LIVINGSTON, Tex. — Scott Louis Panetti says he was drowned and electrocuted as a child and that he was recently stabbed in the eye in his death row cell by the devil. Mr. Panetti says he has wounds that were inflicted by demons and healed by President John F. Kennedy.

“The devil has been trying to rub me out to keep me from preaching,” Mr. Panetti, explaining why he faces execution, said in an interview from behind thick glass in the Polunsky Unit here in East Texas, where condemned prisoners are held before transfer to the death house 45 miles west in Huntsville.

Despite Mr. Panetti’s obvious mental illness — he was a mental patient long before he gunned down his in-laws in 1992 — he served as his own lawyer at his murder trial, throwing the courtroom into chaos with frequent gibberish. Now the hyperactive and gangling Mr. Panetti, 48, has become an illustration of the growing quandary over the application of a 1986 Supreme Court decision barring execution of the insane.

The ruling appears to be limited to those without the capacity to understand that they are about to be put to death and why. Whether Mr. Panetti fits that definition is a matter of dispute.

In an appeal to the Supreme Court that could affect the cases of other mentally ill prisoners awaiting execution, Mr. Panetti’s lawyers argue that while he has a “factual awareness” of his execution, he has a “delusional belief” that it is unconnected to his crime, and that he should therefore be spared lethal injection.

The case of another mentally ill death row inmate, Guy T. LeGrande, who represented himself and is scheduled to die Dec. 1 in Raleigh, N.C., is going through its final state appeals, with his lawyers arguing that he, too, is delusional, and that he hastened his execution by abandoning his defense.

Charged in the contract killing of a woman whose husband pleaded guilty to plotting the murder and is serving life, Mr. LeGrande, 47, says he is innocent and was framed. He appeared in court in 1996 in a Superman T-shirt, cursed the jurors as “Antichrists” and taunted them, “Pull the switch and let the good times roll.” They took less than an hour to sentence him to death.

Experts and advocates in the field say the issue of executing the mentally ill is the next frontier in death penalty law.

“This is an emerging issue,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a research institute in Washington that opposes capital punishment.

Mr. Dieter cited the Panetti and LeGrande cases as gray areas in which “the death penalty may be extreme punishment given their reduced culpability.”

Franklin E. Zimring, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment” (Oxford University Press, 2003), said there was something “indigestible” about these cases.

“We assume people don’t want to die,” Mr. Zimring said. “But these are defendants that call the legal system’s bluff.”

Concern over execution of the mentally disabled prompted the American Bar Association last August to join a widening chorus of professionals calling for a halt to death sentences and executions for defendants with severe mental disorders that “significantly impaired” their rational judgment or capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct. The moratorium was endorsed earlier by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The groups also opposed death sentences for prisoners with mental disorders that impaired their ability to assist their lawyers and make rational decisions on their appeals. The Supreme Court has already barred execution for the mentally retarded and for juveniles.

“An increasing percentage of people executed are people giving up their appeals,” said Ronald J. Tabak, a lawyer at the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Manhattan and a specialist in capital cases who led the bar association’s death penalty task force. “And of these, a significant percentage have serious mental illness.”

The Supreme Court’s 1986 ruling, on a Florida case, Ford v. Wainwright, left much unclear. Although no state permitted execution of the insane, the justices affirmed that the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment prohibited it. But they did not provide a standard for determining when someone was competent enough to be executed.

In a concurring opinion later adopted as law by lower courts, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. said it was enough “if the defendant perceives the connection between his crime and the punishment.” Justice Powell also said that the Constitution “forbids the execution only of those who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it.”


Justices block execution of mentally ill killer

His illness argument should be considered, Supreme Court says in 5-4 ruling

June 28, 2007

WASHINGTON - A divided Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the execution of a Texas killer whose lawyers argued that he should not be put to death because he is mentally ill.

The court ruled 5-4 in the case of Scott Louis Panetti, who shot his in-laws to death 15 years ago in front of his wife and young daughter.

Lawyers for the convicted murderer say that he suffers from a severe documented illness that is the source of gross delusions. “This argument, we hold, should have been considered,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion.

Panetti should have been given the opportunity to submit expert psychiatric evidence in state court because “it is uncontested” that he made a substantial showing of incompetency, Kennedy wrote.

Panetti’s lawyers wanted the court to determine that people who cannot understand the connection between their crime and punishment because of mental illness may not be executed.

Dissent on technicality

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said that Panetti had petitioned the federal courts twice in his case, but that the law allows only one petition.

“The court bends over backwards to allow Panetti” to bring his current claim, despite no evidence that his condition has worsened, or even changed, since 1995, Thomas wrote.

One of Panetti’s lawyers, Scott Hampton of Austin, Texas, said that “executing Scott Panetti would have been a mindless, meaningless, miserable spectacle. What this decision means is that you can bring in experts to try to determine a person’s rationality.”

Hampton said the number of people on Death Row with the kind of mental illness that Panetti suffers from is relatively small.

A former ranch hand and native of Hayward, Wis., Panetti had a history of mental problems including schizophrenia, recording 14 hospital stays over 11 years before his conviction.

Siding with Kennedy in the majority were Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Joining Thomas in dissent were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

Texas said the court should reject Panetti’s appeal on procedural grounds. But it also argued that the court should set a tougher standard for mental illness exceptions to capital punishment. Only if a Death Row inmate “lacks the capacity to recognize that his punishment both is the result of his being convicted of capital murder and will cause his death” should his execution be halted, the state said. Panetti is competent on that basis, it said.

The killings took place in September 1992.

Found competent by four courts

A former ranch hand and native of Hayward, Wis., Panetti had a history of mental problems before his conviction, recording 14 hospital stays over 11 years.

Four courts have said he was competent when he fired his trial lawyers. A jury and two courts rejected his defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. He personally argued that only an insane person could prove the insanity defense, dressing in cowboy clothing and submitting an initial witness list that included Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy.

Then-Justice Lewis Powell said 20 years ago that a person may not be put to death if he cannot perceive “the connection between his crime and his punishment.”

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution bars “the execution of a person who is so lacking in rational understanding that he cannot comprehend that he is being put to death because of the crime he was convicted of committing,” they said in court papers.

The case is Panetti v. Quarterman, 06-6407.



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