For the third time since 2019, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill barring the death penalty for people with severe mental illness. The bill now goes to the state senate, where two similar bills have been defeated.
“I believe that the third time is the charm,” the Texas Tribune quoted the bill’s sponsor, Dallas Democratic Rep. Toni Rose, as saying on the House floor during debate.
HB 727 provides that those convicted of a capital crime who suffer severe mental health challenges can present pretrial evidence of their mental health issues. If the evidence is convincing, a hearing would be held, and a jury would decide if they should be exempt from the death penalty.
The bill comes at a time when several men scheduled for execution have demonstrated extreme symptoms of mental illness, causing alarm among mental health and criminal justice advocates not just in the United States but worldwide.
They include Andre Thomas, whose April 5 execution date was withdrawn last month to give his lawyers time to prepare for a hearing to determine his mental competency. The 39-year-old Thomas, who has severe schizophrenia, permanently blinded himself by gouging out both eyes, the first one five days after his arrest, the second, which he then ate, in 2008.
Another is Scott Panetti, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, who was convicted of killing his wife’s parents in 1992 and sentenced to death in 1995. He represented himself at his trial dressed as a cowboy and attempted to call as his witnesses the pope, Jesus Christ, and John F. Kennedy.