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It’s tragically absurd that people have been forced to resort to this, but the family, friends and advocates helping Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti have launched a petition drive to help promote his effort to gain clemency.

The following description of Mr. Panetti’s situation comes from the good folks at the Texas Defender Service:

Scott Panetti was honorably discharged from the Navy at the age of 18. Eighteen months later, he was diagnosed with “early schizophrenia.”

Scott Panetti has suffered from severe mental illness for over 30 years. It first manifested itself at least a decade Scott Panettibefore the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. His severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case and although Mr. Panetti continues to be severely mentally ill, Texas now plans to execute Mr. Panetti on December 3, 2014.

This is the enduring image of Mr. Panetti’s case: a paranoid schizophrenic wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume; on trial for his life, insisting on defending himself without counsel; attempting to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raising an insanity defense. Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system. Read More

News

The Associated Press published this disturbing report this afternoon about the release of an autopsy of a mentally ill prison inmate who died of thirst.

Anthony Michael Kerr, 53, died when he was found unresponsive in March while being transported from a state prison in Taylorsville to Central Prison in Raleigh.

The article (by AP’s Michael Biesecker) also reported a state pathologist couldn’t determine if the death was of natural, accidental, or homicidal causes. The pathologist wasn’t given information by prison staff about when Kerr last ate or was given something to drink.
From the AP article.

In the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office report, pathologist Dr. Lauren Scott says a senior prison official allowed a “witnessed review” of an internal review into Kerr’s death, though the medical examiner’s office was not permitted to keep a copy. Scott wrote that the report left unanswered key details about the circumstances leading to Kerr’s death, including when the inmate last had access to food and water.

Because of the lack of information, the pathologist wrote that she was unable to make a determination about whether Kerr’s death should be classified as natural, accidental or homicide.

“Mr. Kerr’s psychiatric history was significant for schizoaffective disorder for which he was not receiving any treatment at the time of his death,” Scott wrote. “It was not possible to make any firm conclusions regarding the inmate’s nutrition and fluid intake, and whether or not his mental health and/or external factors played a role in the dehydration.”

Scott noted abrasions on Kerr’s forearms were “consistent with restraint devices.”

You can read the entire article here.

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Keith Vidal (Source: Facebook)

Keith Vidal (Source: Facebook)

Authorities are reviewing the shooting of Wilmington area teenager shot and killed Sunday by a police officer who responding to a call for help from the mentally ill teen’s family.

Keith Vidal, 18, was armed with a small screwdriver but family members have told Wilmington media other responding officers were successfully calming the youth down when a third officer arrived on the scene, according to what Vidal’s family told reporters from WECT in Wilmington.

[Mark] Wilsey said officers had his son down on the ground after the teen was tased a few times and an officer said, “we don’t have time for this.” That’s when Wilsey says the officer shot in between the officers holding the teen down, killing his son.

“There was no reason to shoot this kid,” Wilsey said. “They killed my son in cold blood. We called for help and they killed my son.”

A Southport Police Department detective, Byron Vassey, has been put on administrative leave in connection with the incident, Wilmington TV station WECT reported. Authorities have not said if Vassey was the shooter, but no other officers from the other police departments on the scene have been placed on leave.

The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting.

The TV station also reviewed 911 documents that indicated the officer who shot the teen had arrived at the family’s home seconds before the shooting.

Vidal was a senior at South Brunswick High School and scheduled to graduate this spring, according to the Wilmington Star-News article about the shooting.

The national blog, ThinkProgress, has also picked up on shooting, and published a post today about the incident.

From the ThinkProgress post:

During Sunday’s incident, Vidal had apparently picked up a small screwdriver — small enough that it couldn’t have caused serious harm, his family says, but enough that they sought law enforcement assistance. Three different police departments’ officers arrived at the scene. The first two were able to restrain Vidal and calm him down, according to Vidal’s father. But then a third entered, and that’s when he says things went sour.

He says the third officer tased Vidal, knocking the 90-pound teenager to the ground. The officer then allegedly stepped forward with a firearm and said, “we don’t have time for this,” before shooting the teen dead.

Southport Police Department, one of the three North Carolina agencies that responded to the call, has put one of its detectives on administrative leave in relation to the case, reports WECT. The department did not say whether the officer was the one who had fired the weapon. The other departments, Boiling Spring Lakes PD and the Brunswick County Sheriff’s office, said that they have not put their responding officers on leave. The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the incident.

In Durham, police will release a report to the public this week detailing how 17-year-old Jesus Huerta was killed when he was shot in the back of the head while alone and handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.

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One of the most frustrating parts of the General Assembly’s ongoing move to renege on the Dix Park deal has been the out-of-the-blue concern that has materialized from conservatives for persons with mental illness. After working for years to underfund and privatize essential services (often, admittedly, in tandem with shortsighted Democrats), all of a sudden, these folks are desperate to sell off Dix for condos to get money to fund services for persons in need.

Conservative State Rep. Jim Fulghum of Raleigh wrote a letter to Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend, however, protesting that he was no Johnny-come-lately to the cause of helping people with mental illness and that he both supported the Dix park and somehow restructuring the lease to help persons with mental illness. Let’s hope he’s sincere.

The problem, of course, is that even sincerity of this kind isn’t gonna’ solve the state’s mental health challenge. As veteran lobbyist Paula Wolf noted in a “letter” to Fulghum on her “Paulatics” blog yesterday, Read More