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Texas Prepares to Kill Schizophrenic Inmate

AUSTIN (CN) - Attorneys for a schizophrenic Death Row inmate on Wednesday asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry to stop the Dec. 3 execution of a man who represented himself at trial wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume.

Scott Panetti was 34 when he shaved his head and shot his in-laws to death in their Fredericksburg, Texas home in 1992. After the killings, he kidnapped his wife and daughter at gunpoint, holding them hostage in a cabin before releasing them.

Panetti was arrested that same day but told police "that it was his alter ego, 'Sarge' who did the killing," according to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice summary of the case.

Attorneys say the murders were a result of a "psychotic break" produced by the mental illness they say Panetti has been battling since 1978.

He was convicted of capital murder in 1995 but not before attempting to call more than 200 witnesses, including John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ, in what his attorneys called "a bizarre circus that contravened justice."

In court documents, one of Panetti's lawyers, Greg Wiercioch, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said Panetti's schizophrenia led him to reject a plea offer of a life sentence and to insist on representing himself at trial.

"The case of Scott Louis Panetti is a judicial disaster that has attracted national and international outrage - and for good reason," Wiercioch said. "Evidence of his incompetency runs like a fissure through every proceeding in his case - from arraignment to execution."

Wiercioch said the execution "would cross a moral line."

On Wednesday, dozens of mental health professionals, legal scholars and religious leaders joined the effort to persuade Texas officials to spare Panetti, 56, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection.

In a letter, 30 people, including former Texas Gov. Mark White, asked Perry and the parole board to commute Panetti's death sentence to life in prison.

"We come together from across the partisan and ideological divide and are united in our belief that, irrespective of whether we support or oppose the death penalty, this is not an appropriate case for execution," the letter said.

A Kerr County judge on Nov. 6 denied Panetti's request for withdrawal or modification of the execution date. Attorneys hoped to contest his competency for execution.

Panetti hasn't been evaluated in seven years. He has a fixed delusion that his execution "is being orchestrated by Satan, working through the State of Texas, to put an end to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ," his attorneys say in their petition.

A federal judge stayed his Feb. 5, 2004 execution date to evaluate whether he had the competence to be executed.

Despite finding that Panetti was under the influence of severe mental illness at the time of the crimes, which continues to affect him to this day, the court concluded he was competent for execution.

"The execution of Scott Panetti would be a cruel injustice that would serve no constructive purpose whatsoever," states a letter signed by more than 50 Evangelical Christian leaders, including 20 from Texas. "When we inflict the harshest punishment on the severely mentally ill, whose culpability is greatly diminished by their debilitating conditions, we fail to respect their innate dignity as human beings."

Panetti is the last inmate scheduled for execution this year in the busiest death-penalty state in the nation. Texas has executed 10 inmates in 2014 so far. There are nine executions already scheduled for 2015.

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