The most prolific death sentencing-state in the U.S. is set to exercise capital punishment on yet another prisoner, Scott Panetti, on Wednesday, Dec. 3 — but UN investigators have urged Texas to halt the mentally ill inmate's execution in a statement on Tuesday, calling the execution of mentally ill prisoners "inherently cruel and unworthy of civilized societies."
Scott Panetti, a man who was found guilty of murdering his parents-in-law in 1992, was handed the death sentence at his trial in Kerville, Texas, in 1995. Panetti was hospitalized over the course of a decade for chronic schizophrenia, depression and delusions prior to his crime. During his trial — at which, despite his history of mental instability, he was allowed to represent himself — Panetti donned a purple cowboy costume and a 10-gallon hat. According to the Los Angeles Times, he tried to call witnesses such as President Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and Jesus Christ to the stand.
UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, said in the statement:
International law considers the imposition and enforcement of the death penalty on persons with mental disabilities a violation of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
That Panetti was permitted to argue his own case in court — which turned the trial into a "circus" of sorts, said the LA Times — alarmed the UN experts. UN Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns noted:
I am seriously concerned that Scott Panetti’s capital trial, held in 1995 after an authorization to waive his right to counsel and to represent himself, despite his severe mental health condition, may have influenced the subsequent decisions of the courts.
Panetti's death sentence has also drawn strong criticism from right-wing politicians, the American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, all of whom condemned the court's decision based on his history of mental illness.
Texas is infamous for the number of capital punishments it carries out — at its peak, in 2001, the state executed 40 inmates. In comparison, the other 32 states that have the death penalty have so far executed a combined 30 people in 2013.
In January this year, the Lone Star state went so far as to execute Edgar Tamayo, a Mexican national, despite the Central American country's appeals. Prior to Tamayo's execution, Mexico's Foreign Ministry asserted that it would be "a clear violation of the United States’ international obligations."
In his statement, Heyns said of Panetti's death sentence:
It is a violation of death penalty safeguards to impose capital punishment on individuals suffering from psychosocial disabilities. Implementing the death penalty under these conditions may amount to an arbitrary execution.
Panetti's defense attorneys have called for Texas Governor Rick Perry, as well as the United States Supreme Court, to delay the execution — but, Al Jazeera America reported that neither has yet to respond to the request.
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