Welcome to the
Links at RARWRITER
Links brings you a feature this week of timely urgency regarding issues of
capital punishment that speak to the heart of the American Justice system. This
involves the Supreme Court's hearing arguments on April 18 in the case of Panetti
v. Quarterman. At issue is whether the State of Texas can carry out
the death sentence of a man whose lawyers say is not competent to understand
that he is being executed for murders he knows he committed. The man is Scott
Panetti, diagnosed mentally ill with "schizoaffective disorder."
The feature is on his sister Vikki Panetti, the L.A.-based rock singer who has
worked tirelessly in her brother's defense and who, in doing so, has become an
articulate spokesperson for the causes of Amnesty International.
PANETTI - SHEMONSTER and the Battle for Scott
a democrat. All the men on my father's side of my family are veterans. I think I
should have been the first woman (in the Panetti family to enlist). I chose
college though (instead of the service) and liked my government class a lot. My parents are members of
the VFW and American legion. I always attended Memorial
Services for veterans all my life. Memorial and Veterans Days were always
important to our family. We would put flowers on all the graves yearly."
VIKKI PANETTI clicks off her American credentials as if she has to remind
herself that she isn't one of those left-wing "hate America"
troublemakers. She does have a beef with the government, though - at least the
one in Texas. They are trying to kill her brother.
doubt in Texas there are those who feel that Scott Panetti is in need of
the morning of September 8, 1992, Scott Panetti shaved his head, donned military
fatigues, and drove to the home of Amanda and Joe Alvarado. Scott's estranged
wife Sonja had fled there, to her parent's home, with her and Scott's
three-year-old daughter. She was seeking refuge from his drinking and abusive
entered the Alvarado home carrying a shotgun, the barrel of which had been sawed
off for use at close range, and a rifle. He used the latter to shoot his mother
and father-in-law to death. He then allowed his wife and daughter to leave
un-harmed, as "Sarge" had instructed.
was the voice that had taken up residence inside his head, that told him he
could kill these people without causing them pain, because divine intervention
ensured that they would not suffer. As Scott left the house, however, demons
laughed at him. Maybe he had been tricked. Later that afternoon he dressed
himself in a suit and turned himself into the police for the crime of murder.
Sunday I would find my father watching the 'News with David Brinkley' and I would
watch it with him..."
Panetti continues to recount the way she grew up, to recall normalcy.
"I also liked the news and would watch it with my parents. When
I was in high school I was elected 'Badger Girl' in Wisconsin at my
high school. (Mind you the U of Wisconsin Badgers) So I was given a trip to
Madison which is the capital to participate in a fake government made up of
other female students, to see how it all works. I learned a lot and was elected lieutenant
governor by my peers..."
must seem disorienting for her that all this time later her early grounding in
American values, and her early education in American governmental systems would
lead to where she is now. As the highest profile member of the tightly-knit
Panetti family, outside of the ignominy of her brother Scott, it has fallen upon
Vikki to somehow mate her creative calling in L.A., the land of make believe,
with her all-too-real role as lobbyist for her brother's life. She will be in
Washington D.C. this week for the Supreme Court date.
has dedicated herself to this dual role with extraordinary ferocity, using
appearances by her band "Shemonster" as media events to rally support
for Scott's cause, and speaking at Amnesty International conferences on the
uncertain state of American justice, and the deplorable use of capital
punishment at a time when breakthroughs in DNA analysis are revealing troubling
issues in the continued use of the ultimate punishment.
Goes to the Circus
Scott Panetti case, while cut-and-dry as a case of murder, surfaces many
problems with the U.S. justice system's capacity for mounting an appropriate
response for an egregious act committed by a mentally ill individual. The
justice system stumbled over Panetti from the first.
initial competency hearing, in July 1994, yielded nothing. It was declared a
mistrial, the jury unable to reach a verdict on exactly where Scott Panetti was
in his thinking. Did he have sufficient mental capacity to understand his
situation and to assist in his defense? What they knew of Scott was that he
understood what he had done and what the court said he was being tried for, but
they also knew that Scott suspected that the court had ulterior motives. He
seemed to believe the justice system wanted to execute him for preaching the
September 1994 a second competency hearing was held. It was two years after the
crime and Scott's lawyer testified that in the two years leading up to this
second hearing he had no useful communication with Scott Panetti because he
found Scott "delusional." He called a psychiatrist who testified that
Scott was not competent to stand trial. The prosecution called a psychiatrist
who testified in agreement with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and allowed that
Scott Panetti's delusional thinking "could interfere with his
communications with his legal counsel, particularly under situations of stress
such as in a courtroom." However, he concluded that the defendant was
competent to stand trial; in essence, that Scott was crazy, but smart. The jury
agreed and the murder case against Scott Panetti moved forward.
delusional, or wiley as a fox, Scott's next move only further made people wonder
who is this guy? He waived his right to counsel, and when the case went
to trial in September 1995 Scott was there acting in his own defense - dressed
as a cowboy. In an affidavit written by a lawyer who was appointed as Scott's
stand-by counsel, he wrote that Scott dressed in a costume "like an old TV
western", including cowboy hat, trousers tucked into his cowboy boots, and
cowboy shirt. The lawyer added that Scott Panetti had "wanted to subpoena
Jesus Christ, JFK, actors, actresses, and people who had died... This was not a
case for the death penalty..."
personal presentation and rambling discourse led witnesses to describe the trial
as a "farce," a "joke," a "circus" and a
"mockery." A psychiatrist who had treated Scott for his mental illness
was quoted as saying, "My God. How in the world can our legal system allow
an insane man to defend himself? How can this be just?'" Another doctor,
who had treated Scott Panetti for schizophrenia in 1986 - six years before the
murders - concluded that Scott was "acting out a role of an attorney as a
facet of the mental illness, not a rational decision to represent himself."
the judge in the case made no effort to stop it. An attorney who was called by
Scott Panetti as a witness, recalls - "The judge just seemed to let
Scott run free with his irrational questions and courtroom antics."
the jury found Scott guilty and eligible for the death sentence, interviews with
juries revealed that they voted for the death penalty "out of their fear of
his irrational behavior at the trial. In Texas a jury can only vote
for death if they decide that the defendant will pose a future danger to society
if allowed to live."
other words, they voted to execute because Scott scared them.
asked Vikki Panetti once if she wasn't concerned that choosing the name
"Shemonster" for her act, and then being so closely associated with
her brother's horrendous crime and bizarre legal case, wasn't inviting some
degree of incrimination, possibly even charges of exploitation. "No, it's
just a stage persona, like Alice Cooper or Kiss," she said. Those acts, on
the other hand, are pure theater, mounted for the purpose of creating a faux
reality, an alternate truth. They don't typically weave grinding life stories
into their messages, if they have messages at all; not like Vikki does in her
songs, like "Death By Texas." Shemonster to Vikki is all about
channeling the rage inside, finding that inner self and being strong, focused
Panetti has been living in the state of Texas Huntsville/Livingston
"Prison-City" complex since 1995. He is on Death Row in the Polunsky
Unit, which is in Livingston. Inmates there live in total isolation.
psychiatrist who evaluated Scott Panetti in 1997 concluded that he suffers from
schizoaffective disorder (a combination of schizophrenia and manic depression).
This expert added that Panetti's "decision to waive his own counsel was
under the influence of persecutory delusions, and his ability to represent
himself in court was substantially impaired by disturbances in his thought
processes." The psychiatrist further concluded that Panetti had not been
competent to stand trial.
health reports state that although Scott has the “cognitive functionality to communicate coherently
much of the time,” he suffers from “grandiosity and a delusional belief
system in which he believes himself to be
persecuted for his religious activities and beliefs.”
1999, Scott's former wife, Sonja Alvarado, the daughter of the murdered couple,
signed an affidavit in which she said : "I know now that Scott is mentally
ill and should not be put to death."
Mounts Internationally and in the Courts