A federal court has halted the death of Texas inmate Scott Panetti, who was scheduled to be executed today for fatally shooting his mother and father-in-law, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, in 1992. In a statement, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said it needed time “to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter.” Panetti’s lawyers have argued that their client is too mentally ill to have understood the consequences of his actions and that killing him would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
According to his attorneys, Panetti is schizophrenic and began having psychotic episodes 14 years before the deaths of his wife’s parents. (He was hospitalized 13 times between 1974 and 1991.) Panetti was allowed to represent himself at his trial, where he wore a cowboy outfit and attempted to call JFK, the Pope, and Jesus as witnesses. His lawyers say that he believes that his execution is being “orchestrated by Satan to punish him for jailhouse preaching.” The state of Texas maintains that Panetti is faking his symptoms, arguing that conversations he had with his parents show “a rational understanding of the relationship between his crime and his punishment.” He hasn’t had a mental competency evaluation in seven years.