The Hufffington Post’s Kim Bellware has been following a developing story in Texas where the legislature is considering a bill to exempt the mentally ill from the death penalty. Bellware stated,
People who can prove they were affected by severe mental illness when they committed a capital crime would be exempt from the death penalty under a new Texas law introduced Tuesday.
Mental health advocates joined state Rep. Toni Rose (D) as she introduced HB 3080 and presented it as a humane and cost-saving measure that would still allow a convicted killer to be punished.
“This is something we’re seeing across the U.S. — a lot of conservative states are moving in this direction and you’re going to see more Republican support,” said Marc Hyden, the national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
“If there’s any state that should be pushing this, it is Texas,” Hyden said. “That’s where Scott Panetti was sent to die.”
Panetti’s case has been cited by advocates of severe mental illness exemptions (including a former Tennessee attorney general) as an example of why such death penalty reforms are needed.
Panetti had been diagnosed with “early schizophrenia” following his discharge from the Navy in 1978. He was hospitalized 15 times for mental health-related issues between leaving the military and 1992. He was convicted of killing his in-laws that year, and displayed bizarre behavior while representing himself in the trial. Panetti remains on death row in Texas after a 2014 execution attempt was halted.
There are clear reasons, beyond the cost savings ,why conservatives should support such a measure:
Even conservatives who aren’t ready to support full-on abolition of the death penalty tend to think the mental health exemption makes sense, Hyden said.
“Every single one I’ve met thinks it’s a miscarriage of justice to execute ill people,” he said. “I’m pro-life, and so our most of our supporters. Pro-lifers believe we should protect the most vulnerable in our society, not kill them. People with the severe mental illness are the most vulnerable in society.”