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HUNTSVILLE, Texas — No one disputes that Scott Panetti — heavily armed, head shaved and wearing camouflage — shot and killed his in-laws at their Texas Hill Country home, showering his estranged wife and 3-year-old daughter in blood. Panetti himself acknowledged during his 1995 capital murder trial that he had killed Joe and Amanda Alvarado. Dressed as a cowboy, he acted as his own attorney, believing only an insane person could prove an insanity defense.
Jurors convicted him and sentenced him to death, and he is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday. But Panetti's attorneys are seeking to get him off death row or, in the very least, to get his execution date postponed so that he can undergo further psychological testing to determine if he’s competent to be put to death. They believe his case raises questions about the legality of executing the mentally ill — an issue the U.S. Supreme Court has previously considered.
“He cannot appreciate why Texas seeks to execute him. You have to have a rational as well as factual understanding of why you're being executed,” said Kathryn Kase, one of his lawyers. Seven years since his last mental evaluation, Panetti is showing increasingly aberrant delusional behavior on death row, Kase added. Prosecutors argue that Panetti's claims are without merit and that defense attorneys have had years to arrange new evaluations. Court-appointed medical experts for the state have long said they suspect some of Panetti's bizarre behavior was contrived.
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