“Mr. Panetti’s lengthy history of mental illness, his delusional behavior while defending himself at trial in 1995, and the multiple diagnoses from mental health professionals confirming his severe mental illness, provide even more reason to stop his execution,” the conference said in a Nov. 21 letter to the Texas governor, who is a Republican.
“Putting to death anyone whose faculties are so severely debilitated by mental illness as to not comprehend nor be responsible for his actions is not merely unjust, but immoral,” the conference continued, adding that the Church opposes the death penalty as “a desecration of human life.”
In September 1992 Panetti killed his in-laws Joe and Amanda Alvarado in their home in front of his estranged wife and their 3-year-old daughter. He was heavily armed and dressed in camouflage.
He had been hospitalized for mental illness more than a dozen times before the murders, and is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.
During his 1995 trial, he acknowledged that he had killed the two. However, he acted as his own attorney and dressed as a cowboy, believing that only an insane person could make an insanity defense, the Associated Press reports. He also tried to subpoena John F. Kennedy and the pope.
Panetti is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection the evening of Dec. 3.
Kathryn Kase, one of Panetti’s lawyers, has said Panetti believes he is being punished as part of a satanic conspiracy to prevent him from preaching the Gospel on death row.
Prosecutors have said that Panetti is faking insanity. Court-appointed experts for the state have voiced suspicions that some of his behavior was contrived. An assistant district attorney for Gillespie County, which handled his trial, has said that the inmate’s discussion of politics during a Nov. 4 prison visit with relatives showed he was oriented in time and place.
However, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has unanimously recommended his sentence be commuted.
The Texas Catholic Conference voiced “tremendous sympathy” for the family of Panetti’s two victims. It also noted the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Christ “teaches that a true neighbor is one who shows mercy.”
“Showing mercy does not mean neglecting to administer justice or punish people for their crimes. Showing mercy does mean exhibiting compassion toward all of our brothers and sisters, and providing them with an opportunity for atonement and rehabilitation,” added the Catholic conference, which called for Panetti’s sentence to be commuted for him to obtain appropriate medical treatment for mental illness.
“While government has an obligation to protect the community from violent offenders, it also bears a responsibility to ensure justice and proper treatment for our brothers and sisters suffering from mental illness,” the conference said, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
Opponents of the execution include his ex-wife, who signed a petition against the execution, and over 20 conservative leaders who opposed the execution in a joint letter.
Abby Johnson, a pro-life advocate who left her job as a Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas, also opposed his execution in a Nov. 18 essay in the Dallas Morning News.
“The execution of Panetti would be more than an embarrassment to our state. It would undermine our commitment to protecting life, especially the most vulnerable, by extinguishing the life of someone clearly suffering from mental illness,” she said.
The Texas Catholic Conference’s Texas Mercy Project has written a prayer asking for mercy for Panetti, and for mercy and compassion from those with authority over his execution.