Austin (Texas): Schizophrenic murderer Scott Panetti`s execution at Huntsville prison has been suspended by a US court just hours before he was to be put to death by lethal injection.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which has jurisdiction over Texas, decided Wednesday to suspend the execution to be able to examine in detail the complicated legal questions surrounding the case.
“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 ruling stated.
Panetti`s lawyers, Greg Wiercioch and Katheryn Kase, argued that their client had not gone through a competency evaluation in seven years and that he was too mentally ill to be executed.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was one of the three options Panetti was left with in order to escape capital punishment.
The other options were to move the Supreme Court or to appeal to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is not known for granting clemency.
During his 14 years in charge, Perry has supervised the execution of 279 prisoners, more than any other governor in the history of the US.
Some of the executions were questionable, as in the case of Kelsey Patterson, who was indicted for a double-murder in 2004 as he suffered from schizophrenia like Panetti.
Panetti, now 56, killed his in-laws and kidnapped his wife and three-year-old daughter in Texas in 1992 and attributed the crime to his alter-ego “Sarge”.
During his 1995 trial, Panetti defended himself dressed as a cowboy and tried to call more than 200 witnesses, including John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and Jesus Christ.
Since then he has been hospitalised for psychosis and delusions on multiple occasions.
Panetti`s case drew attention from beyond the borders of the US, as it attracted criticism from several renowned people and organisations, including the UN.
“Implementing the death penalty under these conditions may amount to an arbitrary execution,” Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, said Tuesday.
Panetti`s estranged wife Sonja Alvarado, daughter of the victims, had even said in a court statement in 1999 that he suffered from mental illness and should not be executed.
Texas rounds up the year with 10 executions in 2014, the lowest since 1996.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas accounts for 518 of the total 1,392 executions carried out in the US since then.