Will Texas Execute a Schizophrenic Who Defended Himself in a Purple Cowboy Outfit?

In 1992, Scott Panetti gave his head a good, but uneven shave, and murdered his in-laws. He then held his wife and daughter hostage at gunpoint.

Now, he’s on death row, awaiting his execution on December 3, but his fate isn’t yet set in stone. His case has attracted a small but dedicated group of supporters petitioning Texas Governor Rick Perry to grant clemency to Panetti, a veteran and Wisconsin native. Among those supporting the effort are the American Bar Association, former prosecutors and DOJ officials, former judges, evangelical leaders, and Panetti’s family.

And why? Because Panetti is insane, and not just a little bit either. This is a man who was allowed to defend himself in court, and showed up wearing a purple cowboy suit, summoning more than 200 witnesses to the stand, including John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ.


Panetti was discharged from the Navy in 1978 and subsequently diagnosed with paranoia and delusions. He was hospitalized 13 times in the next 13 years for issues relating to mental illness. He began receiving federal benefits for his schizophrenia in the 1980s.

Many of Panetti’s delusions pertain to the devil. In one case, he buried his family’s furniture in their backyard in an attempt to ward off the devil. The court documents he kept during his disastrous trial are filled with handwritten ramblings about Jesus Christ and sketches of crosses. To this day, he believes his execution was orchestrated by Satan acting through the state of Texas, trying to end his preaching of the gospel of Christ.

In 2006, the New York Times profiled Panetti, who told the reporter he had recently been stabbed in the eye by Satan. Luckily, he said, John F. Kennedy healed him. The article also quotes his description of the murders, perpetrated by his alter ego Sarge Ironhorse:

Sarge is gone. No more Sarge. Sonja and Birdie. Birdie and Sonja. Joe, Amanda lying kitchen, here, there blood. No, leave. Scott, remember exactly what Sarge did. Shot the lock. Walked in the kitchen. Sonja, where’s Birdie? Sonja here. Joe, bayonet, door, Amanda. Boom, boom, blood, blood. Demons. Ha, ha, ha, ha, oh, lord, oh, you.

Panetti’s case has already been subject to some controversy, as the Supreme Court reversed the decision made by the Fifth Circuit Court in 2007, declaring their analysis of his competency flawed. They had found it to be enough that Panetti understood that he had committed murder and that the state was executing him because of the murders — although he believed the true reason was an allegiance to Satan.

Even after the district court reexamined his case on the order of the Supreme Court, Panetti was found to be sufficiently competent in 2008. The Fifth Circuit Court affirmed the finding last year.

As his execution date draws close, more people are joining the fight to have Panetti pardoned and placed in an insane asylum. His sister started a Change.org petition for him.