10 May 2006

Texas Justice Strikes Again.

When lives are at stake it isn't good enough to say that the prosecution did a better job than the defense at trial. We need to know that the guy was actually guilty. A faux trial conducted by an insane man representing himself doesn't accomplish that end. Yet, Texas allowed such a case to produce a death sentence, because Texas has such a bloodlust that it doesn't care about justice.

Scott Louis Panetti, convicted in 1995, had an odd trial. His execution, scheduled for last month, has been postponed for a couple of months by a federal judge, not to set aside the travesty of the original trial, but to consider whether he is competent to be executed.

[H]e named his younger sister Victoria as his legal assistant. . . . [He was] allowed to represent himself wearing a purple cowboy suit and subpoenaing Jesus Christ. . . . The legal documents Panetti had sent his sister included voluminous expert reports documenting Panetti's more than 12 prior mental commitments. . . . This is a man who had been committed one time after burying furniture from the family home and after trying to wash the devil out of it.

Even the U.S. government had declared Panetti mentally unfit to hold a job when it ruled that he qualified for supplemental Social Security income in 1986. . . .

This was a case . . . involving a Navy veteran with a series of numerous prior mental illness diagnoses - including at Wisconsin veterans' and mental institutions for schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations and homicidal ideation, right up to the murders. This defendant had committed the murders after shaving his head and donning camouflage, believing he was a previously described split personality named Sarge.

Victoria, then a student in fashion merchandising with no legal training, didn't know what to do with her brother's records. . . .

Others had tried . . . to talk Panetti out of acting as his own lawyer, including the lawyer he'd fired, Scott Monroe, who said in court documents he hadn't had useful communication with Panetti for two years. Prosecutors also objected to Panetti acting as his own lawyer.

Two juries had been asked to rule on Panetti's competency. The first hung. The second, held in a different county, found him competent, despite evidence of his mental illness.

Monroe explained that the standard for competency in Texas was very low. If Panetti could answer basic questions - such as, what a judge does - he was supposed to be considered competent.

From the trial transcript there were sequences like this one:

Panetti: "Mom, I slept good and I had a dream and woke up real confused, and the relevance of my guilt or innocence, is there anything that has to do - now, I flat ironed you . . . "

Judge: You need to ask a question, Mr Panetti.

And this one:

Panetti: "Sarge woke up. Cut off Scott's hair. Sarge suited up. Shells, canteen, pouch, 3006, tropical hat, tropical top, bunkhouse, fast . . . webgear, top, brush hat, boots . . . Scott, what? Scott, what did you see Sarge do? . . . Boom, boom, boom, blood. Demons. Ha, ha, ha, ha, oh, Lord, oh, you."

Judge: "Mr. Panetti, let's stop."

Panetti: "You puppet."

The criminal justice system in Texas needs to be placed under a federal receivership.

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