From Sentencing Law and Policy, Texan Scott Panetti has been found competent for execution by Judge Sam Sparks in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. He was convicted of killing his wife's parents. The problem is that Panetti clearly has a mental illness. Panetti made the following comments to prosepective jurors as he represented himself during voir dire:
The death penalty doesn’t scare me, sure but not much. Be killed, power line, when I was a kid. I’ve got my Injun beliefs as a shaman. I sent the buffalo horn to my sister. Adjustment, Jesus wrote. I was born in the North woods in a reservation hospital and my granddad was a justice of the peace and he sobered up the doctor and the doctor was half sobered and they delivered me and my mom had a bad sickness in her milk and they wondered why I wasn’t dead, and a lot of beatings I took from the kids that show me had prejudice, which I don’t have any prejudice, and they said this about me in the newspapers in the beginning, but I don’t love Injuns and Mexicano, and Mexicano know, but I suffered a lot of reverse prejudice from Colored people, which is rare, darn rare, but I was named “He who doesn’t cry” because I didn’t cry when I should have, and I must admit, though, in Gillespie County Jail when I was in my little suicide box where there was an old boy committed suicide, I went through about a week of pretty much scuba diver’s tears; although, I don’t scuba.
It's not like there is much debate about whether Paretti was "faking" his insanity; in the ten year run-up to his crime, he'd been hospitalized a dozen times for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, psychosis, auditory hallucinations, and delusions of persecution and grandiosity. This isn't a regular guy who did a bad thing. Ask yourself how many people you know with a similar clinical history.
In Panetti v. Quarterman, the Supreme Court held that he could not be executed unless he understood the reason he was facing death. Fair enough. But trial details like these - and you can find more in the petitioner's brief in the case - really do bring up deeper questions like: why is a person in this condition allowed to represent himself; if he is to represent himself, how can we justify execution as a sanction for the crazy things that happen during trial; does such a trial meet social expectations of fairness; and more generally, is it right for the state to kill a person whose brain functions like this?
The Court has never held the execution of people with mental illness to be unconstitutional. That's hardly an easy solution anyway. Such a rule would force courts to face more of the complicated line-drawing debates that have made the the mental retardation issue so tough after Atkins. But there is something wrong here. To me, at least, it looks like Texas simply wants to put Panetti to sleep. If so, the least the state can do is follow national veterinary standards for the practice.