Rick Perry Silent Under Pressure To Delay Execution Of Severely Mentally Ill Man

WASHINGTON -- Scott Panetti is just about out of options. On Wednesday at 6 p.m. CST, the state of Texas will end his life, even though his lawyers say Panetti is severely mentally ill and an execution would violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. One of the only people who can stop the execution, at least temporarily, is Gov. Rick Perry (R).

But with time running out, Perry is so far staying silent, despite mounting pressure on him to intervene.

Panetti is on death row for the 1992 murder of his in-laws, whom he killed while his wife and daughter were watching. He has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses for over 30 years and been hospitalized more than a dozen times.

On Monday afternoon, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted not to recommend that Panetti's death sentence be commuted to life in prison. The board also rejected a request to delay the execution for 180 days.

Panetti is now left with few options. The most direct route goes through Perry, who can delay the execution for 30 days, in order for further evaluations of Panetti's mental state to be made. (By law, however, the governor cannot single-handedly lift the death sentence.)

After the parole board's ruling Monday, Panetti's lawyers wrote to Perry, requesting a 30-day delay to allow Panetti to receive a new mental health assessment. (He has not had one since 2007.) Their letter reads:

Our visits to see Mr. Panetti over the past three weeks confirm that he remains delusional, that he is regularly experiencing auditory hallucinations, and that his psychiatric condition is worsening day by day. Without a 30-day reprieve so that we may investigate and litigate his competence to be executed, Mr. Panetti will go to the execution chamber convinced that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospel, not for the murder of his wife’s parents.

Despite Mr. Panetti’s longstanding and incurable mental illness, as well as his history of incompetence, the inexplicable fast-tracking of his execution means the question of his competence to be executed has not received the full and fair hearing that the Constitution requires. so that Scott Panetti’s constitutional right to be competent when executed can be protected through further investigation and litigation.

Perry has so far remained silent about what, if anything, he will do. When asked for comment, spokeswoman Lucy Nashed simply replied, "This case is pending before the courts."

The lawyers, Gregory W. Wiercioch and Kathryn M. Kase, are especially incensed about the way they found out their client's execution date. A judge signed an order on Oct. 16 setting Panetti's execution date for Dec. 3, but the district attorney never notified Wiercioch and Kase that their client had been scheduled to be put to death. Instead, they learned about the pending execution on Oct. 30, through an article in the Houston Chronicle.

"[T]he District Attorney remained silent about the execution date," Wiercioch and Kase wrote in their letter Monday. "Fourteen critical days passed before undersigned counsel read an article in the newspaper about the scheduling of Mr. Panetti’s execution. Fourteen days passed during which counsel could have been investigating the issues surrounding Mr. Panetti’s competence -- issues which the District Attorney surely knew would have to be litigated to ensure that Mr. Panetti’s execution would not violate the Eighth Amendment."

If Perry fails to act, Panetti could theoretically also find relief through the courts. In addition to sending the letter to the governor, Wiercioch and Kase have asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to delay the execution so that their client can receive a competency assessment. On Monday, the lawyers also urged the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

A PR representative said Kase was not available for an interview Tuesday.

Perry is under pressure from a broad coalition of people around the country, including some of his fellow conservatives. Former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, all Republicans, are among the prominent conservatives who have called on the governor to delay Panetti's execution. More than 94,000 people have also signed an online petition in support of the delay.

If Texas goes ahead with the execution, Panetti would be the 519th person to die by lethal injection in the state since 1982.

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