Roger writing the LAWmag
Jun 2007

The Devil Made Him Do It

Never a dull moment on death row.

The latest comes from Washington where the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today (June 28, 2007) to block the execution of Scott Panetti, who killed his in-laws in 1992.

The reason?

Quoting Eve, circa the Garden of Eden, he says:

"The Devil made me do it".

There’s doubt as to whether he can comprehend that his execution is for his crimes. The defence has been to deflect responsibility for the double murders by riding the insanity train since arrest, as if the crime unlocked a deep trigger within Scott Panetti on September 8, 1992, sending his mind to just that place within the legal definition of insanity, for the purposes of criminal justice of course.

Scott PanettiScott Panetti had joined the navy; married, had a daughter. The crime shows no hallucinatory conduct. It fact it was quite deliberate and planned. According to the facts laid out in the judgments of the courts, his wife had sought respite at her parents’ house because of Panetti's drinking and anger problems.

Panetti's parents' website later added some detail: that he shaved his head, donned military garb, sawed off a shotgun, drove to the in-laws, shot them, and allowed his wife and daughter to leave, returned home, changed into a suit and surrendered to police. This, as described at his Amnesty International website at

Not quite the same facts the court found. This is what the Supreme Court judgment of June 28th says (

"On a morning in 1992 (Panetti) awoke before dawn, dressed in camouflage, and drove to the home of his estranged wife’s parents. Breaking the front-door lock, he entered the house and, in front of his wife and daughter, shot and killed his wife’s mother and father. He took his wife and daughter hostage for the night before surrendering to police."

For more of the horrid facts, visit

Once engaged in the criminal justice process, which resulted in his death sentence in September of 1995, Panetti’s behaviour was remarkedly similar to that of the character Max Klinger in MASH, who feigned mental illness to get a discharge from the Korean War.

According to the Supreme Court, Panetti stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication:

"... a few months before trial, a rejection of medical advice that, it appears, petitioner has continued to this day."

Experts have concluded that Panetti:

"... knows that he is to be executed, and that his execution will result in his death (and) that he has the ability to understand the reason he is to be executed".

The Supreme Court’s decision, which postponed Panetti’s execution indefinitely, said:

"Capital punishment is imposed because it has the potential to make the offender recognize at last the gravity of his crime and to allow the community as a whole, including the surviving family and friends of the victim, to affirm its own judgment that the culpability of the prisoner is so serious that the ultimate penalty must be sought and imposed.

"The potential for a prisoner’s recognition of the severity of the offense and the objective of community vindication are called in question, however, if the prisoner’s mental state is so distorted by a mental illness that his awareness of the crime and punishment has little or no relation to the understanding of those concepts shared by the community as a whole."

According to, 53 persons were executed in the USA last year for capital crimes and over 20 so far this year (2007). 38 states have the death penalty; 12 do not.

Canada has no death penalty nor does England.

But Panetti ....

Why is that as of the time of his crime forward, he is so mentally disabled as to prevent him, apparently, from awareness of the reason behind his execution whereas before, he was in the Navy, was an all-star high school football player etc.?

He was described as a poet, an artist and a Church-goer.

Is the effectiveness of his demeanor, since, just so well-orchestrated as to coincidentally buttress an insanity plea?

Does the looming death penalty have anything to do with it or did he truly snap?

These are reasonable questions any tax-payer would ask.

The only one who knows is ... Scott Panetti.

Posted in Crime and Criminal Law