What If Killer Can't Grasp Meaning of Execution?
by Patty Reinert and Mike Tolson
Houston Chronicle April 17, 2007
In the decade before he shot his in-laws dead in the Texas Hill Country, Scott Panetti was hospitalized 14 times for schizophrenia and psychotic delusions. He heard voices and fought with various personalities in his fractured mind. He once planted his furniture in the ground and watered it, believing it to be possessed.
Yet a Gillespie County jury deemed him fit to stand trial for capital murder in the 1992 slayings, and a judge allowed him to represent himself despite objections from even the prosecutor. Dressed in a purple cowboy outfit with a hat dangling from a string around his neck, Panetti flipped a coin to choose his jurors, ranted incomprehensibly and tried to subpoena everyone from President Kennedy to Jesus Christ.
The jury rejected his insanity defense and sentenced him to death.
Every mental health expert to evaluate Panetti agrees he is mentally ill. But on Wednesday, his lawyer, Keith Hampton of Austin, will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to answer a more difficult question: Is Panetti now so insane that he should be spared execution because he cannot grasp the fact that his punishment is the result of his crime?
(I couldn't get a link to this article, but this preview is from Pew Forum.)
Omigod! Why do we have the death penalty? To assuage our anger at violence, violence that we condone in children’s video games? To prevent future crimes? (Certainly wouldn’t work here) To punish the evil-doer? (He doesn’t connect punishment and deed.) What is going on in our world that we deliberately kill so many people? I’ve ranted about war, but this is corporate insanity.
Who could possibly say this man is not insane? But, the greater question is: If we say he is insane, what do we do with him? Mental hospitals and mental health care are little better than the mid twentieth century. Certainly, we have better counselors, but too few of them. Certainly we understand more about mental illness, but where do you go for care? Certainly we have more psychiatrists, but how do you get an appointment, and how do you pay for continuing care, much less the medication?
When you listen to the homeless, you may realize that mental illness keeps them homeless more than lack of housing resources (though affordable housing is a joke). When you listen to some drug addicts, you realize that the addiction followed the mental illness, not caused it. And, what of our veterans who have been brainwashed in the military to “kill, kill, kill” and now are confronted with a society where killing is wrong?
How do we protect those who have mental/emotional illnesses from themselves and how do we protect others from them? We are doing a miserable job of rehabilitation, therapy, medication management, training, supervision for those who need it. Are the techniques available to help keep us all safe – from ourselves and from one another?
All I have is questions, prayers and grief.