A federal appeals court halted Wednesday's scheduled execution of a Texas killer whose attempt to subpoena Jesus Christ as a trial witness and other behavior led his attorneys to argue he is too mentally ill for capital punishment.
Scott Panetti, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia some 14 years before fatally shooting his estranged wife's parents in 1992, was granted the reprieve less than eight hours before he was set to receive a lethal injection. In stopping the execution, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged the legal complexity of putting a mentally ill inmate to death.
In a two-sentence ruling, the court said it needs time to "fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter" and that it will schedule briefings and hearings to consider arguments.
The Texas attorney general's office said it has no immediate plans to appeal and that state attorneys will present arguments to the 5th Circuit once the court sets a date for them.
Panetti's lawyers described him as delusional and argued that he was too mentally ill to qualify for capital punishment and they sought the delay so Panetti could undergo new competency examinations.
Panetti, who acted as his own trial lawyer, testified as an alternate personality he called "Sarge" to describe the slayings of Joe and Amanda Alvarado. He wore a purple cowboy outfit, including a big cowboy hat, during trial and largely ignored a standby attorney the judge appointed to assist him.
Appeals also were before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has said mentally ill people cannot be executed if they don't have a factual and rational understanding of why they're being punished. The high court took no action once the lower court stopped the punishment.