Scott Panetti: Questioning Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Synopsis: Mr. Scott Panetti killed his relatives in front of his wife and daughter, his actions are certainly not acceptable in any sense of the word, so why do I find myself defending this murderer.(1)
Author: Thomas C. Weiss Contact: Disabled World (www.disabled-world.com)
Published: 2014-12-03 Updated: 2020-11-14
The mental health history of Mr. Panetti certainly did not stop the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles from unanimously voting not to recommend that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
For a person to be executed they have to understand why they are being executed. They have to understand that they are being killed for the crime they have committed.
Mr. Scott Panetti killed his relatives in front of his wife and daughter. Mr. Scott Panetti's actions are certainly not acceptable in any sense of the word. So why do I find myself defending this murderer? He has been sentenced to die by a court of law in the State of Texas, a punishment some would find to be, 'justice,' for his actions.
Scott is a person with schizophrenia and other forms of mental health disabilities, ones he has experienced for around 30 years. For the duration of that time he has apparently failed to receive the adequate mental health treatment he needs. With the understanding that the mental health community in America struggles with many problems such as funding, research, stigma and much more - it is easy to understand how this could happen. When mental health issues are joked about and attempts made to ignore them, the results at times cost everyone in society.
Mr. Scott Panetti's lawyers are just about out of ways to save his life. He is about to be executed by the State of Texas, despite the fact that his lawyers say he is seriously mentally ill and executing him would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment on cruel and unusual punishment. In what may be a surprise defense, some members of the Republican Party are actually calling for Mr. Panetti's execution to be stopped. After all, Scott Panetti has been hospitalized more than a dozen times for mental health issues.
The mental health history of Mr. Panetti certainly did not stop the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles from unanimously voting not to recommend that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison. The same board rejected a request to even delay his execution for 180 days. It seems that in Texas, revenge is King and let's not hear about anything that might comprise an, 'excuse.'
What Is the Issue?
The issue is this:
For a person to be executed they have to understand why they are being executed. They have to understand that they are being killed for the crime they have committed. Mr. Scott Panetti believes he is being executed because he has been preaching the word related to his particular form of religion. In other words, Scott thinks Texas is killing him because he is preaching the Christian word, not because he killed his in-laws in front of his wife and daughter.
Mr. Panetti is delusional, regularly experiences auditory hallucinations and his mental health continues to deteriorate. He seriously thinks Texas is going to kill him for preaching the Gospel. Texas; in the meantime, has fast-tracked his execution - most likely because the State of Texas is very aware that Mr. Panetti is mentally ill and killing him is a violation of the 8th Amendment. Scott's lawyers were not even notified about his pending execution, they found out when it hit the news.
The court allowed Mr. Panetti to defend himself in court. His mental health history means nothing to the State of Texas; the only thing that matters to Texas is their thirst for revenge and their perception of Western Justice. The State of Texas perceives law in the way that suits its own tastes, not as it must be applied, or even through the lens of human rights.
In short - the State of Texas does not care whether it is violating the 8th Amendment, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or anything else. Texas just loves executing people. In fact, the great State of Texas has executed 518 people since the year 1982 and shows no desire to cease this dehumanizing form of punishment. At some point, perhaps Texas will realize that by killing a person for killing others you are placing yourself on the same level as the murderer, placing everyone else in society in the same category.
What About the Governor?
Texas Governor Rick Perry has not said a word about the execution of Mr. Scott Panetti. Let that one sink in for a moment. Even though Scott Panetti has had serious forms of mental illnesses for decades, Mr. Rick Perry of the fine State of Texas is apparently more interested in pandering to voters from Texas than human rights, disability rights, or the 8th Amendment. You just gotta love politicians.
By fast-tracking the execution of Scott Panetti, Texas is coming across as a cruel, medieval little punk who simply wants its way no matter what. Never mind that Scott Panetti does not understand the consequences of attempting to defend himself. Never mind that Scott does not understand the reason he is being killed by the State of Texas. Never mind that the Governor of Texas is pursuing his own personal agenda along with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
How Can This Be?
While I will never approve of the actions Scott Panetti took which ended the lives of his relatives, as well as the trauma and horror he caused his wife and daughter, the fact remains that Scott was failed by the mental health system in America. I would imagine that the mental health system in Texas is even worse than the mental health systems in other states in America. Should we execute those who failed Scott Panetti because they are accessories to murder? Texas would probably love that.
The United States of America adores presenting itself as the model of disability rights for the rest of the world to somehow emulate. The fact is - despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, equality for people who experience forms of disabilities in this nation remains elusive. America has signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), yet the leadership of America cannot seem to find itself with the ability to ratify this vital convention. Is it any wonder that a state in America is in so much of a hurry to execute a well-documented person with mental health disabilities, despite the fact that the mental health system failed him
Beware, Scott is Not Alone
Anyone; anyone - despite race, class, gender, ability or other type of social identification, can experience a form of mental health issue at any time; The President, Members of the Supreme Court, Police Officers, Medical Personnel, Jane or Joe Block; anyone. What does this mean to you? It means that in America we have a mental health system that is incapable of providing adequate treatment to those who are most severely mentally ill. It means that even you could experience a mental health issue that finds you violating the law. It means that you could even end up in Scott Panetti's place.
If Mr. Scott Panetti is executed by the State of Texas it means that anyone in America could be treated in the Gothic and rather medieval manner that he has been. It means that the ADA, the CRPD, the 8th Amendment and more mean Absolutely Nothing because disability discrimination in America is certainly very alive and doing quite well, particularly in the great State of Texas.
If you kill the killer, you become the killer and are no better in any way whatsoever. The whole situation is quite a statement in regards to America's mental health system, as well as the perspectives of some in relation to people with disabilities. America - model of disability rights for the rest of the world indeed.
So while I absolutely do not approve of or condone the actions of Mr. Scott Panetti in any way, I do believe he has been inappropriately treated by the State of Texas. I believe Governor Rick Perry is deliberately ignoring the situation, in effect approving of the violation of Scott's 8th Amendment right. I believe this particular court case defines the ongoing, deep prejudicial treatment of people with disabilities in America, particularly people with mental health disabilities.
As I was writing this article I found out that Mr. Scott Panetti has been granted a stay of execution. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the stay on the morning he was to be executed. The fact that Scott was ever placed on death row in the first place is such a horrible offense it is hard to take as a person with disabilities. Texas actually wants to kill this guy because America's mental health system failed not only Scott - but his entire family and society as a whole.
Pardon me if I do not feel safe in America. The words, 'trust,' and, 'faith,' are ones I find myself unable to apply to the American system of justice. I am left to wonder if this nation's system of justice will ever understand that killing is wrong - period. Scott killed his family members and inflicted terrible trauma on his wife, daughter and others, but that does not give the justice system the right to ignore the failures of the mental health system or the 8th Amendment. If Texas so badly wants revenge as it pursues its perspective of Western Justice it better gain a clear understanding that many people view its actions as unjust, cruel and demeaning to all of humanity.
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