US & Canada

US court orders execution stay for mentally ill man

Scott Panetti Image copyright AP

A US appeals court has halted the execution of a schizophrenic Texas inmate who was due to be put to death on Wednesday.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals granted the reprieve less than eight hours before killer Scott Panetti was due to receive a lethal injection.

His lawyers had argued he was too delusional to be executed and sought a delay so his competency can be tested.

Panetti was convicted in the fatal shootings of his in-laws in 1992.

The US Supreme Court in 2002 prohibited the execution of the mentally impaired, but have allowed it for mentally ill inmates with a rational understanding.

A number of conservatives leaders had joined the fight to save Panetti's life, writing a letter asking Texas Governor Rick Perry to commute the death sentence to life in prison.

"As conservatives, we must be on guard that such an extraordinary government sanction not be used against a person who is mentally incapable of rational thought," according to the letter.

"It would be immoral for the government to take this man's life."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The US Supreme Court has heard appeals from Panetti's lawyers at least five times since 1995

Ellen Stewart-Klein, an assistant Texas attorney general, meanwhile told that appeals court Panetti's medical records "strongly indicate rational awareness of his impending execution and the reason for it".

"Panetti's mental status has at best been severely exaggerated by his counsel," she added.

On Monday, in a separate appeal to halt the lethal injection, Panetti's lawyers told the US Supreme Court the Texas inmate was severely mentally ill "before, during and after the crime for which he has been sentenced to death".

Panetti was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1978 and hospitalised more than a dozen times before killing Joe and Amanda Alvarado.

"Imposition of the death penalty on people with severe mental illness, as with people with intellectual disability, does not serve the two goals of deterrence and retribution because of their reduced moral culpability," his lawyers told the court.

The Supreme Court added a provision mandating that an inmate have a rational understanding of why he was being put to death in 2007 under a previous appeal from Panetti.

His case has gone to the high court for review at least five times since his 1995 conviction, records show.

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