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5th Circuit Court of Appeals Issues Stay Of Scott Panetti Execution

texas death row

In a two-sentence stay, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, one of two courts considering appeals from Scott Louis Panetti's defense team, put a temporary halt to Panetti’s scheduled execution.

"We STAY the execution pending further order of the court to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter," the appeals court order stated. "An order setting a briefing schedule and oral argument will follow."

Panetti has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses for over 30 years and has been hospitalized on 15 separate occasions.

Twenty-one conservative leaders have now joined with mental health and death penalty reformers in opposing the execution, asking Texas Governor Rick Perry in a recent letter to commute Panetti's sentence to life in prison, saying, "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." Signatories on the letter include Chairman Richard A. Viguerie, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, former New Mexico Attorney General Hal Stratton, conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, former Texas Gov. Mark White and former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul.

According to anti-death penalty advocate Laura Porter, the Court's stay is important because the Fifth Circuit has never before found someone to be too mentally ill to be executed. The stay does not permanently halt Panetti’s execution for the 1992 murders of his in-laws, Joe and Amanda Alvarado of Kerr County, Texas. Rather, it simply puts the execution on hold until such time as the court considers and disposes of “the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter.”

According to The Texas Tribune, only action from Perry or the courts can prevent the execution from moving forward. On Monday, Panetti's lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, saying their client is not competent. Executing him, they argued, would violate his Eighth Amendment protection to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

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