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Texas Death Row Case Draws Attention To Mentally Ill Convicts


The legal process is scheduled to end in Texas today for Scott Panetti. He's a convicted killer set for execution. He's drawn worldwide attention because he has a 36-year history of chronic schizophrenia. From Dallas, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN: Scott Panetti's crime in 1992 was so heinous that its very nature bespoke mental illness. Having come to the conclusion that his in-laws were compelled by the devil, Panetti dressed up as one of his auditory hallucinations, Sgt. Ranahan Iron Horse. Wearing army fatigues, he painted his face in camouflage and shot his mother- and father-in-law to death in front of his wife and daughter.

Panetti was ruled both competent to stand trial and allowed to represent himself in court. As his own lawyer, he was incomprehensible and tried to call 200 people to the stand, among them Jesus, John F. Kennedy and the pope. Panetti testified as Sgt. Ranahan saying in his own defense boom, boom, blood, blood. He was sentenced to death in 1995.

Since then it's become a landmark case concerning the nation's legal treatment of the mentally ill. A wide variety of groups and politicians are calling on Texas and the courts to commute the death sentence, including former Congressman Ron Paul, the American Psychiatric and Bar Associations and most recently human rights experts at the U.N. But the courts have shown little interest in saving Panetti, who without reprieve will be executed this evening. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.

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