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Conservative Leaders Petition Texas Governor Against Execution of Severely Mentally Ill Death Row Inmate

First Posted: Dec 01, 2014 05:29 PM EST
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Over a dozen national leaders of the conservative movement have come together to script and sign a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, asking him to commute the upcoming death sentence of a severely mentally ill inmate to a life sentence, if agreed upon by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The inmate, Scott Panetti, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday Dec. 3. Having reportedly suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses for more than three decades, Panetti's lawyers maintain that executing the man would violate certain constitutional protections.

It's not only Panetti's legal counsel that argue his execution would be a legal travesty. The aforementioned conservative leaders have voiced their formal protest over the matter.

"Mr. Panetti is one of the most seriously mentally ill prisoners on Death Row in the United States," the coalition of conservatives wrote in their letter to Perry. "Rather than serving as a measured response to murder, the execution of Mr. Panetti would only serve to undermine the public's faith in a fair and moral justice system."

A report from The Atlantic supports the previous mention of unconstitutionality. The report offers support for constitutional protections by citing a 1986 Supreme Court case, Ford v. Wainwright, that prohibited the execution of people "who are so out of touch with reality" that they can't figure right from wrong and can't understand their punishment or the purpose of it.

Due in part to both his lifelong mental health history as well as the conduct Panetti displayed during his murder trial, the inmate should be protected by the outcome of the Ford v. Wainwright case. The following are some of the many examples of evidence that should demonstrate Panetti's tenuous grip on his own sanity and, as such, his need for constitutional protections:

It's been reported that Panetti initially exhibited signs of a psychotic disorder as a teenager. He was first hospitalized for mental illness in 1978 and went on to be re-hospitalized a total of 15 times. One involuntary commitment occurred after he brandished a sword and swung it at his wife and daughter, threatening to kill them.

Panetti ended up on Death Row after going off his medications in 1992. On the day of the murder that he is to be executed for he reportedly shaved his head, dressed up in combat fatigues and went over to his in-laws house. There he murdered his mother and father-in-law in front of his wife and daughter.

The antics that occured during Panetti's subsequent murder trial were something one might expect to see on television or in the movies, but certainly not in real life.

Throughout all phases of the trial, Panetti represented himself and his courtroom wardrobe reportedly consisted of a cowboy costume and purple bandana that he donned day-in and day-out. Among the 200 people that Panetti subpoenaed as witnesses were Jesus Christ, the Pope and John F. Kennedy. His statements during the trial have been described as rambling and incoherent and he was often seen sleeping during the proceedings.

When put on the stand to describe the murders, Panetti allegedly took on a different personality -- a man by the name of "Sarge." He narrated the events in the third person and at one point aimed an imaginary rifle at the jurors and pretended to shoot them.

The jury ended up convicting Panetti of murder and at the penalty phase of the trial they deliberated for just one day before bestowing the death sentence upon him.

Even through all of this evidence of a man in the severe throes of mental illness before, during and ever since his trial, Texas courts still plan to condemn him on Wednesday.

The conservatives who are bringing the fight for clemency in this most unusual case to the front door of the Texas Governor's office are a varied bunch. They include, among others, two former state attorney generals.

In their letter to Perry, they maintain that "it is clear that [Panetti] has been suffering from severe mental illness since long before he committed the offense that landed him on Death Row."

"... As conservatives, we must be on guard that such an extraordinary government sanction not be used against a person who is mentally incapable of rational thought," the letter reads. "It would be immoral for the government to take this man's life ... [W]e respectfully urge you to reduce Mr. Panetti's death sentence to life in prison."

In addition to the two former state attorney generals who have signed this letter are several attorneys, the President of the Senate Conservatives Fund, the President of the Western Center of Journalism, the Budget Director for President Ronald Reagan, an editor at The Washington Times, a columnist at The Washington Times and more. For a full list of the conservative group, click here.

For the latest news & updates, follow reporter Bary Alyssa Johnson on Twitter: @MissBary

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