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USA: Texas - Call for execution of mentally ill man to be stopped

In a report on Mr Panetti's case, Amnesty International shows how Scott Panetti, who has had a long history of mental illness, stood trial in 1995 when suffering from schizophrenia. Despite his mental illness, at the trial Mr Panetti was allowed to act as his own lawyer, which he did dressed as a cowboy.

His trial has been variously described as a 'circus', a 'joke', a 'farce', 'not moral', and a 'mockery', by various lawyers, doctors and family members who attended.

A lawyer appointed as stand-by counsel for Mr Panetti has described how Mr Panetti was filing motions and subpoenas randomly, including an attempt to subpoena Jesus Christ, actors, actresses and various dead people, including US President John F Kennedy.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'We believe that the death penalty is always wrong, and in the case of people with severe mental health problems its use is completely beyond the pale.'

'Scott Panetti's trial was a travesty of justice and his execution would be a tragedy. The execution must be stopped.'

Scott Panetti's sister Victoria has said:

'I think that justice broke down in my brother's trial. It was not fair to let a mentally ill man be his own attorney when he did not know what he was doing. I am sorry to say that the trial was a farce. It was a circus-like atmosphere. I never expected justice to allow this.'

Scott Panetti was convicted of the murder of his parents-in-law, who were shot in 1992. At the time of the killings Scott Panetti already had an 11-year-long history of mental illness, including schizophrenia. There is evidence that he was psychotic at the time of the killings, and that he was incompetent to stand trial.

Scott Panetti's family continues to campaign for his life. Victoria Panetti has said to Amnesty International:

'My brother did an awful thing, but he was a mentally ill man. Judge Ables let Scott hang himself at his trial, and now the state is doing all it can to make sure it gets him to the execution chamber. How does this help anyone? I believe that Scott could not help what he did. He was sick. But the State of Texas will be committing a coldly calculated murder if it kills Scott. How can this be justice? Surely my country can do better than this.'

Amnesty International believes that Mr Panetti's case highlights wider concerns about the safety of many convictions in the USA and the use of the death penalty.

Kate Allen continued:

'Quite simply the fact that the USA is willing to execute people who were incompetent to stand trial, while a majority of countries have stopped using the death penalty against anyone, is shameful.'

Next month the USA is set to execute its 900th prisoner since it resumed judicial killing in 1977.

Relevant information

Amnesty International Report: Where is the compassion? The imminent execution of Scott Panetti, mentally ill offender

More information about our campaign against the death penalty... /p>

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