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Execution Blocked for Mental Exam

February 05, 2004|From Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A federal judge Wednesday blocked the execution of a convicted killer whose erratic behavior at trial included dressing like a cowboy and trying to subpoena Jesus Christ.

Acting a day before Scott Panetti was set to die by injection, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks granted a 60-day stay so that a state judge can reconsider whether Panetti is too mentally ill to be executed.

Sparks said evidence presented by Panetti's lawyer indicated Panetti was "delusional and misunderstands whether and why he will be executed."

Panetti, 45, was sentenced to death for the 1992 slayings of his estranged wife's parents.

During his trial, he fired his lawyer and insisted on representing himself. Panetti wore cowboy attire during the proceedings, mimicking the Ringo Kid, the John Wayne character in the classic Western "Stagecoach."

Panetti blamed the shootings on "Sarge," one of his personalities. During jury selection, he flipped a coin to decide whether a potential juror should be on the panel. He tried to subpoena Jesus and John F. Kennedy.

The Texas attorney general's office said it would not ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the reprieve in time to carry out the execution, which had been scheduled for this evening.

"We will prepare to address the issue through the appropriate legal channels," spokesman Jerry Strickland said.

Gillespie County Sheriff Milton Jung said a court already determined Panetti was competent when he was allowed to stand trial. "He's the best actor there is," Jung told Associated Press. "I guarantee you the guy's an actor."

Panetti's supporters said that before his arrest, he had been hospitalized for mental illness 14 times.

But the sheriff said most of those instances were to "dry out" from alcohol or drug abuse. "They're pushing this way out of proportion," he said.

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