Should We Execute The Mentally Ill? Scott Panetti, The Death Penalty & Mental Illness

Scott Panetti is a mentally ill, death row inmate in the state of Texas. He has long been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is scheduled to be executed on December 3, 2014. He will be the 10th and perhaps the final Texas inmate to be executed this year.

Mr. Panetti has a long history of serious mental illness. He is profoundly mentally ill and is among the sickest persons to be executed in modern times. Before killing his parents-in-law, he was hospitalized 14 times. Evidence of schizophrenia began in his teen years.

He represented himself at trial and did so while under the control of a hallucinatory figure named “Sarge.” He dressed in a purple cowboy suit and rambled incoherently throughout the trial. He attempted to subpoena hundreds of people, including the Pope and Jesus Christ. His behavior frightened the jurors.

There is no doubt that Mr. Panetti should be held accountable for murdering two people.

If you believe that it is possible for anyone to be mentally ill then there will be no doubt in your mind that Mr. Panetti is mentally ill. Long before murdering his parents-in-law he was hospitalized 14 times. First of all, if you are familiar with the American mental health system you know that it is difficult to get hospitalized even once. Many people who should be hospitalized and whose families and loved ones have tried desperately to get them hospitalized have failed to be hospitalized. A significant number of these people have gone on to murder or commit suicide, or both. When you have achieved a record of 14 hospitalizations, you can be pretty sure that you are mentally ill.

That’s the background and now here’s the question. Should we kill mentally ill people? I suppose you could correctly say there is an even more basic question, which would be, should we give the state the power to execute anyone?

And that’s when it gets complicated. That’s when we talk about the fact that we are the last large democracy in the world that executes its citizens. They don’t do it in Scotland, Ireland, England, Italy, France, Germany, etc., etc.

Those countries are our allies and friends. Many of our families have at some point emigrated from one of those countries. Many of us are very proud of our ancestry. We are Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans, etc. Those countries used to execute their citizens but now they are very much against it. They won’t even release a prisoner to the United States unless we promise not impose the death penalty.

Your relatives and countries of origin, just don’t believe in execution anymore. In fact they are very much against any execution for any reason (it may be wise not to bring up this topic at future family reunions).

It is our traditional “enemies,” those countries around the world who are our political opposites, who continue just as we do to execute its citizens.

If I were to write a thorough analysis of the death penalty, honestly it would take me thousands of pages. It is surely worth writing about but this is not the time or place. I mention the above simply to prove the point and acknowledge the fact that this is an exceedingly difficult topic.

Forget the issue of the death penalty in general.

Let’s keep it simple. Is it right, to execute a mentally ill individual?

Let’s make it even simpler. Let’s move to the lowest man-in-the-street level. Is it right to execute a man who is as nutty as a fruitcake?

Let’s also forget big but meaningful words like “schizophrenia” and “psychotic.” Let’s just talk about it from the perspective of your uncle Bob, who might sum up Mr. Panetti’s condition by simply saying “the guy ain’t all there.”

With a psychotic person, he’s just not “not all there,” he’s not there at all. Really. He is living in a fantasy world and by definition has lost the ability to know what is real and what is not real.

That’s the question. Do we kill mentally ill people? I know it begs the question, should America execute its own citizens, legally guilty of course, but still its own citizens.

We need to think about that. We need to form an opinion and voice an opinion. And that opinion had better be correct, lest you be judged.

I seem to remember reading someplace, someplace really important, advice from an appearingly, supremely knowledgeable source. It came in a list of similar declarative warnings.

It seemed more than a suggestion and more than mere advice. It was stronger than a warning and very clear.

“Thou shall not kill.’

Hey, I’m not pretending to speak for God. I’m just wondering if executing a mentally ill man falls under that admonishment.

Murder, Mental Health, The Death Penalty & New Video Might Have Blown Amanda Knox’s Alibi

William Bruce was a young man with schizophrenia. He was committed to a psychiatric hospital until mental health advocates helped get him released despite him being actively symptomatic and dangerous. He then killed his mother. Years later, he is in a hospital, medicated and has gained insight into his illness. He told the Wall Street Journal:

“None of this would have happened if I had been medicated.”

The gunman who killed three people and wounded four others in Arkansas had been released from a mental hospital a few days before the shooting. It’s not clear why but most likely either because he was a danger to himself or others.

Las Vegas cops held a “purity seminar” about “promiscuous” girls.

Remember the man (Byron Smith) who set a trap and executed two teen intruders? These recordings capture their horrific deaths. They are graphic. The shooter was given life in prison without parole.

Has Amanda Knox’s alibi for the night of Meredith Kercher’s murder just been blown? It might just be true, according to newly released footage.

Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, recently gave a speech at the United Nations about the death penalty and discrimination. It is worth reading in its entirety but I focused on the part about death for people with mental illnesses:

“…Of course they committed horrendous crimes, took innocent lives that left others suffering and scarred for life, and they must be isolated to protect society. But through no fault of their own, they are tormented souls suffering from devastating afflictions that leave them unable to think and reason like people who are not so afflicted. That is greater punishment that any court can impose…

First Study To Show That Innocent People Have Been Executed in the United States

Authors of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences attempted to determine the rate of false convictions among people sentenced to death.

They examined exonerations among death-sentenced defendants between 1973 and 2004. Their data came from two primary sources: (1) the Bureau of Justice Statistics which is maintained by the Department of Justice and; (2) The Death Penalty Information Center which has recorded a list of defendants sentenced to death since 1973.

They ultimately ended up with 7,482 defendants in their study, 1.6% of whom had been exonerated.

The researchers used a statistical method called survival analysis to calculate their findings.

They determined that approximately 4.1% of defendants were erroneously sentenced to death between 1973 through 2004.

The researchers estimate that of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 in the United States, only “several” were innocent.

The 4.1% figure translates into about one in 25 people in prison under a death sentence are likely innocent.

The authors noted that their findings are unique because there are “no other reliable estimates of the rate of false conviction in any context.”

The 4.1% rate of error is higher than Justice Scalia’s 2007 estimate of 0.027%.

Though support for the death penalty has decreased in the past decade, the majority of Americans continue to support it. It’s difficult to support a system in which innocent people could be executed (and according to these researchers have been executed).

Case in point: Cameron Todd Willingham.

One innocent person executed is one too many.

The authors close with an important point: a great majority of innocent defendants who are convicted of murder are neither executed or exonerated.

“They are sentenced, or resentenced to prison for life, and then forgotten.”