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Federal court halts execution of Texas man who lawyers say is mentally ill

A death chamber in Texas.
A death chamber in Texas.
Joe Raedle / Hulton Archive via Getty Images
  1. A federal appeals court on Wednesday halted the execution of Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti, reported CNN. Panetti was scheduled to be executed later in the day.
  2. Panetti's lawyers say he is severely mentally ill and has suffered from schizophrenia for 30 years.
  3. Panetti was convicted of shooting and killing his mother- and father-in-law — in front of his wife and daughter.
  4. Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole refused to stay Panetti's execution, despite pleas from more than a dozen conservative leaders.

Courts previously found Panetti fit for execution

The US Supreme Court ordered a reevaluation of Panetti's mental health state in 2007. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which stayed Panetti's execution on Wednesday, in 2013 found him competent enough to be executed.

Lawyers argue Panetti's mental health state has deteriorated over time.

During his trial, Pannetti represented himself, dressed in a purple cowboy outfit, and called Jesus, John F. Kennedy, and the Pope to the stand.

58 percent of Americans oppose death penalty for the mentally ill

Americans oppose the death penalty for persons with mental illness by a margin of two to one, according to a new survey by Public Policy Polling. Out of 943 registered voters, 58 percent said they oppose capital punishment for people with mental illness, while only 28 percent supported it.

Panetti's scheduled execution has renewed a nationwide conversation about the death penalty and mental health issues.

"This is a man that has been severely and profoundly ill since 12 years before the crime," Ron Honberg, legal director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told USA Today. "It will be a travesty to proceed with this execution."

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