A U.S. federal appeals court has issued a stay of execution just eight hours before it was scheduled. It was judged that Panetti needs to be examined again.
According to media coverage from 1992, Panetti shaved his head, dressed himself in military fatigues and shot his in-laws in front of his then-wife and daughter. He cleaned himself up, changed into a suit and turned himself in to the police. Later he explained that by doing it, he was trying to protect himself from Satan, who was hidden in his in-laws. During the trial, he wore a cowboy costume. He didn’t want a professional defense attorney. He defended himself on his own. During the trial he attempted to call Jesus Christ as a witness. He confessed that the Iron Horse, which he called “Sarge,” forced him to kill his parents-in-law. “Sarge killed, not Scott,” defended Panetti.
As was expected, the death sentence that was issued in 1995 divided Americans. His guilt is obvious, but the penalty — not necessarily. Americans were even talking about breaching of the Constitution, as it forbids cruel or unusual sentences. According to opponents of the death penalty, the execution of Panetti does not meet two main objectives that should serve society: it does not deter people, and it’s not fair retaliation for committed crimes.
Another difficulty lies in the fact that in 2007 the Supreme Court judged that in order to sentence Panetti to death, he needs to be fully aware of what he is sentenced to. Meanwhile, Panetti is saying that prison authorities conspired against him: the execution is aimed at preventing him from evangelizing his cellmates.
It is not like the whole American political right and religious wing supports the death penalty. Against the execution of mentally ill Panetti was the coalition of evangelical Christians, Methodist bishops, Texas politicians and former candidate for the U.S. president Ron Paul, who is a libertarian. They opt to exchange the death penalty for life imprisonment.
The part of the right that has an issue with the death penalty explains it by lack of trust in the administration of justice. But also by the fact that life imprisonment costs more than execution and commitment on the side of “culture of life.” One cannot be against abortion and not against the death penalty — argue Christians who joined the plea against the execution.
There is no doubt that the death penalty in Europe doesn’t have wide support. But currently, even the extreme right-wing does not advocate for reintroducing it. We have a democratic parliamentary consensus in this case and it may last long. And public opinion cannot understand why in the U.S. criminals who are juveniles or mentally ill are sentenced to death in the name of the law.
A part of the U.S. citizenry who is against the death penalty and wide access to firearms is not able to introduce this consensus in the USA. The easiest solution — abolishing the death penalty and regulating the gunfire issue the European way, seems to be the hardest for Americans. A civilization of freedom cannot handle this ethical challenge.