NAMI Recognizes the Importance of the Panetti Decision

Read NAMI Tennessee’s press release below:

Supreme Court Decision:
Mental Illness & Death Penalty

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) praises yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court blocking the execution of a Texas man who suffers from severe mental illness.

In Panetti v. Quarterman, the court held that an individual’s understanding of the reasons why he or she is to be executed must be considered in determining whether application of the death penalty is constitutional—rather than merely understanding the link between execution and death.

“For once, law has caught up with medical science,” said NAMI Director of Policy and Legal Affairs Ronald S. Honberg. “The circumstances of this case are tragic and no one minimizes the gravity of the crime or the suffering of the victims. However, execution of someone who is profoundly ill would only compound the original tragedy and represent a profound injustice for us all.”

“Severe delusions mean severe illness. Rational understanding and judgment are severely compromised. Application of the death penalty becomes meaningless.”

NAMI previously filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case with the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

To view the Supreme Court decision: http://scotusblog.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/06-6407.pdf. To view the NAMI amicus brief: www.nami.org/policy/panetti

Despite a long history of schizophrenia, Scott Panetti was allowed to represent himself at his trial on charges of murdering his parents-in-law 15 years ago. He frequently spoke irrationally and issued subpoenas to John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ, and Pope John Paul II before being sentenced to death.

Continuing to experience delusions and other symptoms of severe mental illness throughout incarceration on death row, Panetti believed his planned execution was part of an evil conspiracy between Texas and demonic forces to stop him from preaching the gospel.

Locally, NAMI hopes the Tennessee Legislatures recent decision to study the death penalty in Tennessee (SB 1911 Jackson/HB 2162 Briley) will allow us to consider factors of a number of Tennessee death row inmates that suffer from severe mental illness.

“Greg Thompson, a Tennessee inmate currently on a stay of execution to determine his competency to be executed, believes he is a Klingon from Star Trek who has won several Grammy awards. He feels he is immune to electrocution because he can touch the TV and survive the shock. He believes he will go to Hawaii after his execution,” reports Stacy Rector, Executive Director of Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK).

Sita Diehl, Executive Director of NAMI Tennessee, says, “Panetti v. Quarterman must give us pause to examine how the death penalty affects inmates with mental illness in Tennessee.”

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