Scott Panetti is scheduled for execution in Texas on December 3, 2014. His attorneys found out when they read it in the newspaper. Although the execution date has been set two weeks earlier, the state provided his attorneys with no notice. This shortcoming was only the latest in a long series of disturbing events surrounding Panetti’s trial, conviction, and death sentence.
Panetti has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illness for over thirty years. He first exhibited signs of a psychotic disorder as a teenager. Beginning in 1978, he was hospitalized for mental illness on fifteen separate occasions. He developed a delusion that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. He tried to exorcize his home by burying furniture in the backyard because, he claimed, the devil was in it. He was involuntarily committed after swinging a sword at his wife and daughter and threatening to kill them.
In 1992, Panetti went off his medication, shaved his head, and dressed in camouflage fatigues. He went to his in-laws house and murdered his mother and father-in-law in front of his wife and daughter.
The subsequent trial and sentencing bordered on the unbelievable. Panetti was allowed to represent himself during both the guilt and penalty phases of the proceedings. He wore a cowboy costume and a purple bandana to court. He attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ, among 200 others. His statements were rambling and incoherent. He fell asleep during trial. While describing the shooting, he assumed the personality of a character he called “Sarge” and narrated the events in the third person. He pointed an imaginary rifle at jurors, visibly frightening them. His stand-by attorney called the trial a “judicial farce.”