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A federal appeals court has halted the Wednesday execution of a Texas killer whose lawyers say is too mentally ill to be put to death. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the stay of execution just hours before Scott Panetti was due to be put to death for murdering his in-laws in 1992. The court said it was granting a temporary reprieve "to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter."
"We are really pleased that cooler heads have prevailed," defense lawyer Kathryn Kase said after the decision.
Panetti's attorneys say he is a schizophrenic whose mental problems were documented well before the killings. He represented himself at trial, where he wore a cartoonish cowboy suit and tried to subpoena the pope, Jesus and President John F. Kennedy. His lawyers say he is so "delusional" he thinks his execution is being orchestrated by Satan to punish him for jailhouse preaching. Prosecution experts have suggested that Panetti is faking, but he has not had a competency evaluation in seven years.
Lower courts had rejected Panetti's appeals in recent days but by small margins while calls for his execution to be postpond — by mental health, religious and even one conservative group — mounted. He also had petitions pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.