Editorial: Pro-death values

Civilized governments should represent the finest values of humanity — so it’s repulsive that some conservative states still kill prisoners, a custom little different from medieval beheadings.

Advanced democracies around the world have abandoned the death penalty. Nearly half of America has done likewise, but hard-right places like Texas still put people to death. Such pro-death states make America seem brutal.

Occasionally, a death row prisoner is freed because DNA evidence shows that someone else committed the crime. Mostly, however, convicted murderers are bottom-feeders unfit to be at large among regular folks. Many are poor or minority, with deficient intellect.

Significantly, a large share of convicts — of all types, not just murderers — are mentally ill. Here’s a current example:

Scott Panetti of Texas became schizophrenic at age 20 and has been delusional ever since. He was committed to psychiatric hospitals repeatedly. In 1995, he was charged with killing his in-laws with a hunting rifle.

During his bizarre trial, he dressed in a cowboy suit, acted as his own attorney, and attempted to subpoena Jesus Christ. He said the case was “spiritual warfare” between “demons and the forces of the darkness and God and the angels and the forces of light.”

Jurors ruled him guilty, and he was sentenced to death. Volunteer reformer lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which said Panetti is “seriously mentally ill” and shouldn’t be killed unless it can be shown that he understands crime and punishment. The high court sent the case back to Texas for reconsideration.

Texas officials employed technicalities and argued that Panetti is exaggerating his insanity. They won a new execution order — without informing his volunteer defense lawyers, who read about it in newspapers. Now the schizophrenic is scheduled for death on Wednesday.

“A civilized society should not be in the business of executing anybody,” The New York Times commented. “But it certainly cannot pretend to be adhering to any morally acceptable standard of culpability if it kills someone like Scott Panetti.”

It added that he is “no different from the estimated 350,000 inmates around the country with mental illness — 10 times the number of people in state psychiatric hospitals.”

We’re proud that West Virginia halted the death penalty a half-century ago. It’s depressing to look at right-wing Texas, the killing capital.

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