Texas justice, which is national when Republicans appoint the median Supreme Court justice:
Four years before he murdered his in-laws in Texas, Scott Panetti buried some furniture in his yard. The devil, he claimed, was in it. After he was arrested and charged with the killings, Panetti, who has a history of severe mental illness, represented himself at his capital trial wearing a purple cowboy suit. He called himself “Sarge” and subpoenaed Jesus, among other notables. He lost, of course. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
The case made its way though the appeals courts, eventually reaching the United States Supreme Court, which in 2007 ruled that the state of Texas hadn’t adequately evaluated whether Panetti’s mental condition allowed him to fully understand the nature of his punishment—a constitutional prerequisite for the death penalty. The court stayed the execution and sent the case back for further proceedings.
Seven years later, Panetti’s illness hasn’t gone away, but the Supreme Court has given Texas the green light to kill him. The court’s decision, announced on October 6 without comment, upheld a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Panetti was sane enough for execution. The appellate court’s decision, in turn, was based in part on the opinion of a Florida psychiatrist who has deemed at least three Florida death row inmates with long and well-documented histories of mental illness to be sane enough for the needle.
The details in this story, gleaned from hundreds of pages of court documents and other official filings, indicate that Scott Panetti was no malingerer. He began showing signs of serious mental illness in 1981, back when he was still a teenager. By 1992, he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, auditory hallucinations, and manic depression, and had been hospitalized 14 times.
Well, in a state where you can be executed even when the state has no actual evidence that you’ve committed any crime at all, not executing actually killers because they’re severely mentally ill is probably going to be off the table.