December 09, 2014

Ron Honberg

Ron Honberg, national director of public policy and legal affairs, speaking on Democracy Now! (Photo: Screen Capture)

NAMI and other advocates won a victory—at least temporarily—when the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the scheduled execution of Scott Panetti in Texas on Dec. 3, with only seven hours to spare.

NAMI Executive Director Mary Gilberti expressed NAMI’s gratitude to the court, noting that Panetti has lived with severe schizophrenia for more than 30 years.

“The delusions and severe symptoms Mr.Panetti experiences every day have been unremitting since before his crime and have impacted profoundly on the course of this case.

“In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas had applied too narrow a standard in assessing Panetti's competence to be executed and sent the case back for further consideration. This year, despite no additional competency evaluation, Texas once again set a date for Mr. Panetti's execution. Now, the Fifth Circuit has intervened expressing concerns about the complicated legal questions raised in the rush to execute Mr. Panetti.

“After multiple rulings by courts and statements from individuals on all sides of the political spectrum that the execution of Panetti would offend all standards of modern decency, NAMI urges that the death penalty should be taken off the table once and for all in this tragic case,” Giliberti said.

Ron Honberg, NAMI Director of Public Policy and Legal Affairs has been an advocate in the case for years, including the filing of an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, coordinating with NAMI Texas.

Three days prior to the Fifth Circuit stay, Honberg published a major op-ed in the Los Angeles Times stating: “Panetti’s execution— particularly as the product of an unreliable legal process—would be immoral and serve no purpose, either in retribution or to prevent similar crimes.”

National and international media interviewed Honberg about the case, including a joint TV interview on Democracy Now! with Panetti’s attorney, Kathryn Kase.

At least 100 people with mental illness have been put to death in the United States and hundreds more are awaiting execution. NAMI has previously published Double Tragedies, a report in conjunction with families of murder victims. The report gave voice to an "intersection" of concerns and made four recommendations:

  • Ban the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.
  • Reform the mental health care system to focus on treatment.
  • Recognize the needs of families of murder victims through rights to information and participation in criminal or mental health proceedings.
  • Families of executed persons also should be recognized as victims and given the assistance due to any victims of traumatic loss.

Proceedings in the Panetti case will continue. NAMI’s long-standing commitment to mental health care and criminal justice reforms will as well.

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