Scott has a history of mental illness; at age 20 he’d been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, and Scott had been hospitalized at least a dozen times in recent years for psychosis and delusions. He believed that the devil had been living in his furniture, so Scott took his belongings to the backyard to be buried; he thought that the devil was living in the walls of his home and that they were leaking blood, so the man obsessively scrubbed those walls to get the devil out. When Scott thought that his neighbors had been spying on him, he’d nailed the curtains shut so that they couldn’t see inside his home. Delusions such as these had been commonplace for Scott.
Scott’s wife, Sonja Alvarado, eventually left him; he’d been drinking, which only worsened things. Sonja just couldn’t handle the madness anymore, and she’d been aware that this hadn’t been the best environment for their 3 year old little girl to grow up in. So, she’d taken out a protective order against her husband, and Sonja and her daughter moved in with her parents, Amanda and Joe Alvarado. She had truly believed that she was doing the right thing; Sonja believed that they would be safe in her parent’s home, but she was dead wrong.
Scott had no intention of allowing his family to walk away that easily. On September 8th of 1992 he shaved his head, dressed himself in camouflage, armed himself with a sawed off shotgun and knife belt, then drove to his inlaws house. Scott broke into the home, rounded the family up, and he gave his wife an option: who did she want to die first, her parents or herself? Scott forced Sonja and the little girl to watch as he shot her parents at close range; Joe was the first to be killed. Once his father in law was laying dead on the kitchen floor, Scott shot Amanda as well. Afterwords the killer held his wife and their child hostage.
Scott did eventually release his wife and daughter; he dressed himself up in a suit, and turned himself in to the police. During interrogation the suspect claimed that, while physically he had been the one who had murdered his in-laws, he wasn’t to blame – Sargent Iron Horse was! This was a 1940’s-ish cowboy personality well known to everyone in Scott’s life. Friend, family, etc. claimed that they never knew which person Scott would be on any given day – would they see Sargent Iron Horse or Scott?
Scott was charged with first degree murder, amongst other things, and case went to trial in August of 1995. Since Scott had believed that his lawyers were “out to get him”, the killer had been adamant that he be permitted to act as his own attorney. The man wore purple cowboy pants, tucked into his tall cowboy boots, bandannas, cowboy shirts, and an ostentatious cowboy hat to court. Scott questioned prospective jurors as to whether they’d had any “Indian blood” in them, and demanded that 200 people be subpoenaed to testify including JFK, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. Half of the witnesses were called for absolutely no reason whatsoever, Scott had simply wanted to talk to them – to say hi, ask them what they’d been up to recently. Others who actually had a decent reason for being questioned, such as prior attorneys and doctors, were asked preposterous questions such as whether they’d ever had an intimate relationship with Scott; even those who could’ve helped shed some light were never permitted to do so.
Acting as his own attorney, Scott was more paranoid than ever; he mailed important documents (as well as strands of his own hair) to his family as he believed that officers were rummaging through his papers at night while he slept, and other documents such as his medical records were doodled on during trial. Often these very important documents were not accepted into evidence, because they’d been written on.
Many who attended the trial were highly offended; they said it was all like a bad joke, that Scott has made a mockery out of the courtroom – and it really does sound like a three ring circus. Many don’t believe that it should’ve been allowed to continue, that the judge should’ve shut the ridiculousness down as soon as it started. But it was permitted to continue; the jury did find Scott guilty and ultimately sentenced to death. Some of the jurors later stated that Scott’s craziness scared them.
Scott has received very little mental health services while behind bars, and it’s said that prison has definitely exacerbated his condition. He believes that the corrections officers have implanted a listening device in his teeth, someone magically painted “satanic graffiti” on the walls, he is somehow the father of singer Selina Gomez, and that the state wants to kill him simply to keep him from preaching the word of the lord. Scott has also claimed that in junior high he’d met with Barack Obama at a museum in Chicago and that the two got in a fist fight; he’d only decided to write an apology letter to the president after his tooth asked him to do so.
In 1999 Sonja signed an affidavit stating that her ex husband was not a bad man, but a very sick one. Of course she hates what he did to her parents, but she doesn’t want to see Scott put to death for it. That said, not everyone in the family agrees with Sonja; some say Scott is not as sick as he’s being made out to be. Either way, the state of Texas has come pretty darn close to executing Scott more than once, but his insanity has stopped it; in December of 2014 the governor halted his execution just 8 hours before Scott was to be put to death. He had not received a competency evaluation in 7 years. Sonja’s family believes that eventually they’ll receive their justice, that it’s only a matter of time.
Sending Scott to death row has caused an uproar – not because his crimes weren’t gruesome enough to legally deserve the death penalty, but because he was/is so mentally ill and we have laws in place which are supposed to protect the insane from execution. Many argue that Scott shouldn’t have been tried at all, not until he became mentally stable, and that he definitely shouldn’t have been allowed to act as his own attorney. I am curious what you think, what should be done with Scott Panetti?
Below is Scott’s testimony at trial, Birdie is referring to his 3 year old daughter:
“Sarge woke up. Cut off Scott’s hair. Sarge suited up. Shells, canteen, pouch, 3006, tropical hat, tropical top, bunkhouse, fast, haircut fast, suited up fast, boom, ready fast, fast, haircut, webgear, top, brush hat, boots, out the door, in the jeep, driving, wife, the bridge. Why is it taking so long? In front of Joe and Amanda’s house. Sarge, everything fast. Everything fast. Everything slow. Tapped on the window, shattered window. Sonja screams, runs, follow her. She runs out, out the front, knife, Birdie, Birdie. Where’s Birdie? Pick her up, she’s in bed…
‘Scott, what? Scott, what did you see Sarge do?
‘Fall. Sonja, Joe, Amanda, kitchen. Joe bayonet, not attacking. Sarge not afraid, not threatened. Sarge not angry, not mad. Sarge, boom, boom. Sarge, boom, boom, boom. Sarge, boom, boom.
Sarge is gone. No more Sarge. Sonja and Birdie. Birdie and Sonja. Joe, Amanda lying kitchen, here, there, blood. No, leave. Scott, remember exactly what Scott did. Shot the lock walked in the kitchen. Sonja, where’s Birdie? Sonja here. Joe, bayonet, door, Amanda. Boom, boom, boom, blood.
Demons. Ha, ha, ha, ha, oh, Lord, oh, you.
Judge: Mr Panetti, let’s stop.
Panetti: You puppet