Death Penalty

Texas to Execute Severely Mentally Ill Man Tonight Despite Public Outcry (Updated)

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Tonight at approximately 6 p.m. CST Texas is scheduled to execute Scott Panetti, a man who has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses for over 30 years.

First diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1978, Panetti was hospitalized over a dozen times by 1992 and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital at least twice. On one such occasion in 1986, Panetti had buried his furniture in the backyard because he believed the devil was inside it.

In 1992, shortly after Panetti stopped taking his medication, he shaved his head, dressed in army fatigues, and killed his in-laws with a hunting rifle in front of his wife and 3-year-old-daughter. He turned himself in shortly after, and told police officers that "Sarge" was responsible for the killings.

After a jury found him competent to stand trial, a judge allowed him to represent himself in court. At his trial, Panetti wore a cowboy costume and a purple bandana and attempted to subpoena Jesus Christ, John F. Kennedy, and the Pope, along with 200 others. His statements were often incoherent and rambling, and at one point he even fell asleep. In 1995, Panetti was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death.

The central issue at hand—one which Panetti's lawyers and the state of Texas have been arguing over for decades—is whether Panetti is insane and therefore ineligible for legal execution. In 1986, the United States Supreme Court ruled that executing a mentally insane prisoner violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, the court never defined what constituted mental "competency."

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over the state of Texas, thus developed its own test for competency, which requires prisoners facing execution to have factual awareness of the impending execution and the state's reasoning for it, or that they're able to say they understand they're being executed by the state because of the crimes they've committed, regardless of whether they believe it or not. Because Panetti knew that he committed two murders, was set to be executed, and was aware of the state's reason for executing him, the Fifth Circuit court ruled in 2004 that he was competent to be executed. However, witnesses for the state, a psychologist, and a clinical psychiatrist testified that Panetti believed the real reason the state wanted to execute him was to stop him from "preaching the gospel."

That competency test wasn't good enough for the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2007, the Court reversed the Fifth Circuit's decision and ruled that to stand competent for execution, a prisoner must also have rational understanding of the state's reason for execution. This meant the state must now prove that Panetti's schizophrenic delusions don't inhibit him from understanding the reason for his punishment.

In 2008, the Fifth Circuit held a second competency hearing for Panetti. Like in 2004, multiple expert witnesses testified Panetti believed the state was executing him to stop him from preaching the gospel. Despite their testimony, the court found Panetti had "both a factual and rational understanding of his crime, his impending death, and the casual retributive connection between the two," and once again ruled him competent to be executed.

The state's reasoning behind their ruling relied not on the expert witnesses testimony, but on secretly-taped conversations between Panetti and his parents in which, according to the court, he "initiates a very rational, organized conversation with his parents about various states abolishing the death penalty," among other things. The statements made in these taped conversations prove Panetti has rational understanding of the state's rationale for his execution, the court said.

Panetti has not had a competency hearing since 2008, though lawyers assert his mental state has deteriorated since then. It's clear that they're not the only ones who believe Panetti is too mentally ill to be executed. In recent months, Panetti's case has generated huge amounts of outcry from groups and individuals normally silent about the death penalty in Texas, including former Texas Gov. Mark White, who called Panetti's trial a "sham," and 55 evangelical leaders. Even Ron Paul wrote to Gov. Rick Perry asking he grant Panetti clemency.

It's unknown as to whether or not any of this outcry will help stop the execution from taking place. Currently, appeals are pending with the Fifth Circuit Court as to whether a new hearing will be granted in lieu of his execution today. Unless the court allows another competency hearing to take place, Gov. Perry issues a 30-day reprieve to review the case, or the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Panetti will be strapped to the gurney come 6 p.m. tonight.

If Panetti's execution is carried out, it won't be the first time Texas has executed a mentally ill prisoner. In 2004, the state executed Kelsey Patterson despite his history of psychotic behavior. During both his competency hearing and trial, Patterson testified that devices implanted in him by his lawyers were controlling his actions remotely.

Regardless of whether Panetti is ultimately executed, the entire process that's played out in his case represents a gross miscarriage of justice. "This is a case where we've had cascading, catastrophic error and it all concerns the criminal justice system's failure to protect a severely mentally ill man," Kathryn Kase, one of Panetti's lawyers, told me yesterday afternoon. If Texas carries out the execution this evening, it will be an outrage.

Update: At around 11:45 EST, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution. The stay, which can be accessed here, reads as follows:

"We STAY the execution pending further order of the court to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter. An order setting a briefing schedule and oral argument will follow."

It is unclear what "late arriving and complex legal questions" have arisen that weren't present in years past. If I had to guess, I'd say the public (and notably conservative) outcry may have played a role here.

NEXT: Bill Cosby Sued, Tax Break Extension Likely, University of Texas Misplaces a Bunch of Brains: A.M. Links

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  1. Mens rea is still central to criminal law in my book. Even a jury of our peers shouldn’t be allowed to deprive us of our life, liberty, or property; they should really just be there to determine whether we willingly forfeited any of those rights through reciprocity.

    Did the defendant willfully, knowingly, or purposely accept the consequences of violating someone else’s rights?

    You can’t do that if you’re insane.

    The second problem, from a Constitutional standpoint, is that the defendant, obviously, was too insane to contribute to his own defense in any useful way. That speaks to due process. How can you have a fair trial if you can’t contribute to your own defense?

    Letting the defendant behave like a madman in front of a jury, likewise, could be interpreted as if the judge were compelling him to testify against himself.

    “On one such occasion in 1986, Panetti had buried his furniture in the backyard because he believed the devil was inside it.”

    Can you prove that he wasn’t?

    Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean the devil can’t be in your furniture.

    1. So I guess we just have to let crazy people wander around doing crazy shit because intentions are all that matter.

      Right?

      1. No, but I don’t think people whose brains can’t function shouldn’t be held punitively responsible for their choices and behavior.

        I worked in a full lock-down mental hospital in Los Angeles for a couple of years. Just because someone can’t be tried in criminal court doesn’t mean they can’t be confined if they’re a danger to themselves or others.

        …and at this point, the question of whether this guy is a danger to others is no longer moot.

        Certainly, if the axis of your moral compass has anything to do with human agency, it is morally unconscionable to execute someone for being insane.

        He has no agency. It’s like executing a child.

        1. Should read:

          “No, but I don’t think people whose brains can’t function [should] be held punitively responsible for their choices and behavior.”

          But you probably already knew that.

          P.S. Tablets suck.

          1. “No, but I don’t think people whose brains can’t function [should] be held punitively responsible for their choices and behavior.

            Which means that you can’t lock them up either, because that is inherently punitive.

            So you actually agree with my sarcastic remark, you just don’t have the honesty or courage to explicitly admit it.

            1. You are assuming that lockdown in a mental facility is the same as lockdown in a prison. It isn’t. The mental facility is holding him so that he is no longer a danger to himself or others. A prison is holding him as punishment. Significant difference, unless you think that the dementia ward at a hospital and the state pen. are identical.

              1. Simon, I don’t the distinction.

                First, in both cases you are being held against your will in a locked facility. The reasons put forward to justify this don’t change the essential nature of what you are doing.

                Second, the major justifications for doing so are not terribly distinct. They share two major justifications:

                (1) To protect society/the public.

                (2) To rehabilitate/treat you. The difference between rehabilitation of a criminal and treatment of a mentally ill person is not all that great, really. They share a similar approach.

                Imprisonment has a third justification: punishment. But all in all, I don’t they are all that different in kind.

                1. Of course, it’s kind of hard to “rehabilitate/treat” someone after a date with Ol’ Sparky.

                2. First, in both cases you are being held against your will in a locked facility.

                  Ass rape.

                  The difference is ass rape. And, for me at least, that’s a significant difference.

                3. One of them violates an insane person’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

                  The other one doesn’t.

                  “First, in both cases you are being held against your will”

                  Actually, a lot of people are there voluntarily.

                  Some of you must have seen One Flew Over the…

                  1. Actually, a lot of people are there voluntarily.

                    Yeah, but that is not terribly relevant. We are talking about people who do horrible things to other people and what should be done with them.

              2. Pretty sure prisons also warehouse people in order to keep them from harming others. Those aren’t mutually exclusive propositions.

                1. “Those aren’t mutually exclusive propositions.”

                  Certainly, most of the patients confined to our facility had not committed any crime.

                  They were simply deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

                  1) being confined to a mental health facility becasue you’re a danger to yourself or others and

                  2) being executed by the state of Texas

                  …are not the same thing becasue they can both be qualitatively described as punishment by sane, non-criminals.

                  Being confined to a mental health facility because you’re a danger to yourself or others can happen without there being any crime involved.

                  How can it just be a punishment if there’s no crime?

            2. “Which means that you can’t lock them up either, because that is inherently punitive.”

              No.

              I saw a lot of people locked up for reasons that had nothing to do with punishing them.

              I don’t know how it works in California, but there’s a representative of the court that comes to the hospital in California for judgement, and there’s a patient representative appointed for the patient, as well.

              The psychiatrists and hospital personnel make their case as to why the patient under consideration is a danger to himself or others, and if the representative from the courts determines that to be the case, the patients remains confined there–until another review is deemed necessary.

              If the patients is released, the prosecutors can and do prosecute them–once they’re capable of contributing to their own defense.

              Sometimes people aren’t released for many years. If you never get to the point that they say you’re not a danger to yourself or others, you never get out.

              John Hinckley has been in a mental institution since 1981.

              1. “I don’t know how it works in [Texas]”!

              2. I saw a lot of people locked up for reasons that had nothing to do with punishing them.

                That doesn’t change the distinction without a difference in the cases of mentally unfit criminals, who ostensibly aren’t being punished for their crimes, but are in indefinite confinement directly as a result of their crimes. You cite Hinkley, which is a good example, it just doesn’t bolster your case.

                1. “That doesn’t change the distinction without a difference…”

                  You’re saying there’s no difference between being treated for your mental health problems until you’re competent to stand trial–and being executed in Texas becasue you’re insane?

                  A blind man could see the difference!

                  In addition to all of the other differences, one of them protects the Constitutional rights of the accused and the other one violates the Constitutional rights of the accused.

                  1. You’re saying there’s no difference between being treated for your mental health problems until you’re competent to stand trial–and being executed in Texas becasue you’re insane?

                    No, I’m saying being “treated for your mental health problems until you’re competent to stand trial” indefinitely, against your will, by order of the state, on the word of a psychiatrist, as a result of having committed a crime, is distinct without being very different from being locked up in prison as a result of having committed the same crime.

                    I was more intending to address your viewpoint more generally than this case in particular. If he had been sentenced to life in prison or 35 years rather than the death penalty the same logic would apply. It may well be an injustice to convict someone who is mentally ill of a particular crime and punish them for it with prison time, but the alternative is… pretty much the exact same thing.

                    1. You [pm] are engaging in a semantic fantasy with angels on pin heads. Ken is right.

                      Violent but crazy, really crazy just need to be locked up.

                2. That doesn’t change the distinction without a difference

                  Bingo! I despise the death penalty; it makes it too easy for corrupt cops and prosecutors and judges to hide the evidence.

                  But when someone commits a crime, being locked up is warranted to prevent further crimes, and it makes no difference whether it is justified as punishment or rehabilation. It is still lockup, and if the prisoner is locked up for being a looney, he won’t know the difference.

                  1. “It makes no difference whether it is justified as punishment or rehabilitation.”

                    It makes a big difference if you care about due process and the Constitution.

                    “Nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”

                    —-Fifth Amendment

                    Did the judge letting the lunatic represent himself amount to being a witness against himself?

                    To what extent did the man’s insanity interfere with due process? Could he consult with his attorney in a normal way? Could he make any connection to the reality of his circumstances and relate what happened in a way that might defend his innocence?

                    1. “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right….to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

                      Does he understand the nature and CAUSE of the accusation?

                      Can he really understand what the witnesses are saying against him?

                      Does he understand what is and isn’t in his favor–much less which witnesses are for or against him?

                      And as far as the right to have counsel in his defense–is he so far out there that he can’t even assist his counsel or understand what they’re saying?

                      Holding someone who is a danger to others until they are competent to stand trial protects our Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

                      Having a farce trial completely ignores his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights–and those rights are my rights, too.

        2. “He has no agency. It’s like executing a child.”

          I bet they won’t let him write checks! They probably gave someone power of attorney to do that on his behalf.

          They’ll hold him responsible and execute him for his insane judgement, but I bet they won’t let him write personal checks on his own account–because he’s so insane, he can’t be held responsible for the checks he writes.

          1. When you get to the point of murdering someone in cold blood I don’t think the difference really matters. There is some sort of mental deficiency there that would allow someone to do something so unconscionable

            As far as due process, I see your point, but I don’t think it is the issue you are making it out to be, they still get a lawyer, they just wouldn’t be very good at taking the stand for themselves. But, you do not have to take the stand, and any lawyer in his right mind wouldn’t put a crazy person up there, just like they wouldn’t put an uneducated person up there. Should uneducated people not be held to justice for the same reason?

            If you are against the death penalty, that is understandable, in some ways, I agree with some of the issues the anti-death penalty crowd brings up, namely that the state cant’ be trusted not to fuck it up.

            1. “As far as due process, I see your point, but I don’t think it is the issue you are making it out to be, they still get a lawyer, they just wouldn’t be very good at taking the stand for themselves.”

              When his lawyer asks him what he did and why, and he tell his lawyer about how the devil is in his furniture–you don’t think that’s a problem from a Constitutional perspective?

              You have a right to a defense. If you can’t defend yourself, that’s the state’s problem.

              1. You seem to be saying that if someone is too looney to contribute to his own defense, he should not be prosecuted.

                That means that looney people can never be prosecuted, presumably meaning they can never be sent to the looney bin even for rehabilitation, and that crazy people are free to wander the streets and commit crimes.

                If that’s not what you meant, please clarify how I misinterpreted your statement.

                1. Obtain evidence by way of an illegal search and guess what? It’s inadmissible! …that’s the state’s problem, not the defendant’s.

                  Please see my comments above about how you don’t need to commit a crime to be sent to the “loony bin”.

                  There are court appointees mental health professionals have to justify holding people to, but you do not have to be convicted of a crime in order to be confined to a mental institution.

                  Oh, and once you’ve been stabilized and released, a prosecutor can prosecute you–which happens. Originally, a lot of people are brought in on 5150 basis–a 72 hour hold–during which mental health professionals evaluate you and determine whether you’re a danger to yourself or others.

                  After 72 hours, if they want to hold you for longer (or indefinitely), they have to justify themselves to a court representative–that you’re a danger to yourself or others.

                  Being crazy isn’t like being pregnant either. You can be a little bit crazy and still competent to stand trial.

                  But this guy wasn’t that. Not if he’s dressing up like a cowboy and making wild statements to impress the jury. This guy is a certifiable loon, and the question of whether he’s a danger to others isn’t even a question. The alternatives aren’t to either prosecute him or let him go. There are other options–that don’t include violating his Constitutional rights.

                  1. Ken-

                    It is noteworthy that many libertarians have big problems with the State having the power to declare you “crazy” and confine you despite having committed no real crime.

                    Perhaps this isn’t your view, but it is one that has to be considered when trying to envision a principled libertarian solution to this problem.

                    Once a crime has been committed, I don’t see anything functionally or even at its foundation different between Mental Institutions and Prisons. The trip to both are consequences of the person’s law-breaking actions. Both have the primary purpose of protecting the public from the person through isolation and forcing a behavior change on them. In the case of prisons, the forced behavior change is “Go to this work program and play nice-nice while here or you will be back again” and in the case of a mental institution it’s “go to this therapy meeting and keep taking your pills or you will be back again.” The only meaningful difference is that a prison assumes the person is capable of getting the message without shock therapy. usually.

                    1. “It is noteworthy that many libertarians have big problems with the State having the power to declare you “crazy” and confine you despite having committed no real crime.”

                      The process of commitment has parallels to due process in criminal court.

                      The courts are still signing off. There is testimony that you’re a danger to yourself or others–from the police that picked you up as well as the mental healthcare providers that observed you. There is an appointed patient advocate that act like something like a court appointed defense attorney would in a criminal trial. You can appeal the verdict against you if you feel you were committed for unsound reason, and if anybody along the way screws up? You can sue the hell out of them for false imprisonment afterwards.

                      No doubt, it is not a libertarian system if people can be arbitrarily committed, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think what we have is imperfect but largely Constitutional–although I appreciate that people aren’t as intuitively familiar with the commitment process as they are with criminal court.

                      Putting people on a 5150 or a 72-hour hold for observation is a lot like being able to hold a suspect for 24 hours before the police have to charge him with a crime. At the end of 72 hours, if they can’t justify holding you as a threat to yourself or others, they have to let you go. Or they are guilty of false imprisonment, at least, and a whole lot of other things besides.

              2. Still, how is it different from an extremely uneducated person? There are many adults with the mental capacity of a child, have you ever been on a progressive website comments section?

                I disagree, it is not the state’s problem that he cannot create his own defense, it is his and his lawyer’s problem. This is part of the reason everyone gets a lawyer. Your burdens are not anyone else’s but your own. The state is not anyone’s mommy..

                1. I disagree, it is not the state’s problem that he cannot create his own defense, it is his and his lawyer’s problem.

                  Well, a schizophrenic who chooses to represent himself has a nut for a client…

                  Considering the circumstances, the judge probably shouldn’t have allowed him to represent himself, and then the issue of process wouldn’t be contentious. I’d be willing to bet the jury still would have convicted.

                2. Are you under the impression that every case should be treated the same?

                  That would be terribly unfair, wouldn’t it–if everyone were treated the same regardless of extenuating circumstances.

                  1. Ah, fairness. Sigh. This is the same mindset that created affirmative action and throws bakers in jail for not serving cakes to gay people.

                    The law should be blind. It should be a machine, it should never arbitrarily alter it’s course.

                    For issues such as yours, this is why we have JURIES. If the jury decides that the extenuating circumstances (such as this dude just raped your daughter and you tortured him with a baseball bat) warranted acquittal, then fine by me. That is where the human element should come from, not from judges or any other part of the legal system.

                    1. “This is the same mindset that created affirmative action and throws bakers in jail for not serving cakes to gay people.”

                      If affirmative action is bad, it isn’t becasue it treats every individual differently. If affirmative action is bad, it’s becasue it treats everyone the same–on the basis of their race.

                      So, are you going to make any allowances for self-defense in murder trials?

                      Are you going to stop differentiating between First and Second Degree murder?

                      What about vehicular manslaughter? Is killing someone by way of DWI the same as kidnapping and stabbing a child to death?

                      Trials are like snowflakes. Every situation is different, and our English Common Law heritage reflects that. Treating everyone in every situation like they’re all the same–no matter how different–is the sort of mindset that gives rise to bureaucracy and authoritarianism.

                      It also requires us to ignore reality–that every situation is different. Why have trials at all? Why weigh the evidence? Why have juries make separate judgements on each case?

                      Why should the jury weigh evidence differently in one case rather than another?

                      How ’bout becasue each case is different!

                      Hope you never get jury duty.

                    2. “If affirmative action is bad, it isn’t becasue it treats every individual differently. If affirmative action is bad, it’s becasue it treats everyone the same–on the basis of their race.”

                      That is fucking retarded Tony-speak. Good thing I have patience because it almost made me stop reading the rest of your post, which actually had some decent points if you take into account you failed to read my last sentence.

                      The basic point is that the law should be blind to environmental and genetic circumstances. There can and should obviously be differences in the degrees of the crime, as you pointed out.

                      My point is that the law should charge people with the crime based upon the definition of the crime committed. The law should not make exceptions for anyone because of past environment or genetics or state of mind, or political ideology or race, or any other circumstance such as that.

                      If you murdered a guy with a baseball bat after he raped your daughter, you should be charged with murdering a guy with a baseball bat (or whatever law that fit under). If it was self defense, it would not fit under that law, would it?

                      It should be up to the jury to decide if the extenuating circumstances warranted an acquittal or not. The law should make no distinction, the law should only know that what you did fit the definition of the crime, since it wasn’t self defense.

                    3. “That is fucking retarded Tony-speak.”

                      You don’t think affirmative action treats people the same on the basis of their race?

                      Who cares who’s the most qualified? As long as they’re of race x, we’re hiring them! If they’re of race y, we’re not hiring them! That’s affirmative action.

                      Affirmative action is an affront to individuals of all races.

                      Deal with it.

                    4. “My point is that the law should charge people with the crime based upon the definition of the crime committed. The law should not make exceptions for anyone because of past environment or genetics or state of mind, or political ideology or race, or any other circumstance such as that.”

                      If you’re trying to do away with state of mind as a consideration in criminal law, you’re trying to do away with mens rea.

                      And from a libertarian legal standpoint, how do you justify stripping people of their rights to life, liberty, and property without taking their intentions into consideration?

                      Again, juries aren’t really there to determine whether the government should strip people of their rights. Because of mens rea, the jury is there to determine whether the defendant willfully forfeited his rights to life, liberty, or property by intentionally violating the rights of another person.

                    5. Freedom is the flip side responsibility. We have the freedom to own a gun–so long as we don’t use it to violate someone else’s rights. If you intentionally point your gun at a bank teller and demand money, you willingly forfeit your right to own a gun–because of mens rea. The government does not take it from you. Because of mens rea, you willingly give your rights away when you intentionally commit a crime violating someone else’s rights.

                      If you take the state of mind of the defendant out of the equation, then that makes our justice system and the penalties the courts impose truly arbitrary. It doesn’t matter whether you willfully forfeited your rights or not–it just matters what the government says?

                      This libertarian will never sign off on that.

                      P.S. An insane person can’t willfully forfeit their rights or really anything else–that’s why they take their checkbooks away.

        3. He has no agency. It’s like executing a child.

          He had agency on his meds. Going off them was intentional. Though criminally negligent homicide doesn’t carry the death penalty, does it?

          1. So you’re saying he had agency to chose to shed that agency. That would raise interesting questions.

    2. The second problem, from a Constitutional standpoint, is that the defendant, obviously, was too insane to contribute to his own defense in any useful way. That speaks to due process. How can you have a fair trial if you can’t contribute to your own defense?

      This is the real crime here. That judge should have never allowed him to defend himself. Death penalty or not, he lacked a competent defense, the judge surely must have known it, and let it proceed.

    3. Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean the devil can’t be in your furniture.

      Yes, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

      I see your point, but it has a lot more to do with whether he should have been tried than how he should be punished or treated afterwards.
      If you are dangerously, murderously insane, you are going to need to be confined or dead (not necessarily through formal, legal execution), one way or another.
      I’m a bit torn, but I think it is better in some cases at least that such a person be tried, so at least the facts are determined with some certainty, rather than being confined indefinitely until he is competent.

  2. Schizophrenia doesn’t necessarily lead to violence. And may of them are rational enough to understand what is morally right and wrong.
    It seems to me that there is a very real possibility this guy might be exaggerrating his mental illness in the hopes of escaping the death penalty, and that he might have been playing crazy when he commited the crime in the first place.

    Now, I’m not necessarily a supporter of the death penalty, but if this guy was faking it, what he did was horrific, and doubly so if he was using mental illness to try to get away with it.

    1. The key think to know would be whether in his previous psychotic episodes he had behaved violently, and whether “Sarge” was a recurring persona or something that just happened that day.

      Schizophrenics usually return to the same delusions when they go off their meds.

    2. Now, I’m not necessarily a supporter of the death penalty

      I’m not either. My criteria for the death penalty is a bit higher than the state’s. Beyond doubt as opposed to beyond reasonable doubt.

      This doesn’t qualify.

    3. As I speculate below, that could be what the jury thought – that he was faking it because how could anyone be that batshit crazy. Also, he told the cops that “Sarge” committed the crime, which sounds more like split personality disorder, which is not the same thing as schizophrenia, and is quite rare.

      I’m kind of torn on whether or not he was faking the “Sarge” persona and his court room antics. I have no doubt that he was a schizo, but schizo’s can still be manipulative and smart enough to try something like that. Unfortunately there’s no way to know for sure.

      1. Right, and wearing outlandish clothing isn’t necessarily “crazy” from a medical standpoint. Rather, it’s just the sort of thing that people do to make people think they are crazy.

        The courtroom antics just scream faking it to me, personally.
        We’ve seen actual scizophrenics in court recently: Jared Loughner and James Holmes.
        Neither of them dressed up in crazy costumes and tried to subpeona the pope.
        Instead they both just looked spaced out and blank.

    4. Now, I’m not necessarily a supporter of the death penalty, but if this guy was faking it, what he did was horrific, and doubly so if he was using mental illness to try to get away with it.

      There are a lot of details to this case this blogpost won’t cover.

      What was the extent and competency of his psychological exam?

  3. I found it interesting – for at least two reasons – that NPR this morning reported that Ron Paul was one of the people who oppose executing Panetti.

  4. Why am i supposed to feel sorry for some murdering psychopath because he has mental illness.

    Put the fucker down before he kills anyone else.

    1. I agree, I never understood why being mental ill is some sort of excuse.

      1. 1) Mens rea

        2) The Constitution – see the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

        1. A 10-year-old kills someone. Do we “put him down”?

          1. Hell no.

            Same reason.

            We won’t hold children responsible for the contracts they sign (unless it’s for food or shelter).

            Why would we hold them responsible for their decision by executing them?

            1. I agree with you, Ken. The question was directed toward our more bloodthirsty commenters.

              1. Is the kid black or not?

                /murcan

              2. The differences between an unmedicated adult schizophrenic and a 10 year old child might be worth exploring. I’m not sure if many psychiatric professionals would be comfortable drawing the same comparison.

                Let’s also get some perspective: your alternative (presuming you agree with Ken) to the “bloodthirsty” commenters is to leave this guy rotting in a public psych ward medicated into a stupor for another 20 years until he dies. I’m guessing by your self back-patting that you’ve probably never visited one.

                1. I’m guessing by your self back-patting that you’ve probably never visited one.

                  And I’m guessing you’re a moron. But that IS just a guess.

                  1. (BTW — I spent many years as the night cops reporter in a large city. I imagine I’ve seen things that would reduce PM to a whimpering jelly.)

                    1. Lol. Watch out, we got a moron over here!

                  2. And I’ll presume by your school yard name calling and failure to address anything in my comment that you’re incapable of making a substantive argument.

                    1. And again, I’ll assume you’re a moron.

                    2. (And every time I assume PM is a moron — I pat myself on the back!)

                    3. Helpfully confirming that you’re a child incapable of expressing yourself in a way that couldn’t fit on a bumper sticker.

                    4. I figured it out: Prime Moron!

                    5. And it fits on a bumper sticker!

            2. We don’t hold children responsible for the contracts they sign? Perhaps you missed the 18 trillion mark we just surpassed. Oh, sorry. That was the magical social contract that signs itself.

              1. Helpfully confirming that you’re a child incapable of expressing yourself

                See, I thought for a minute that PM was actually going back on topic, but then…NOOOO!

                1. I actually never deviated from the topic. It was you who decided to respond with argumentum ad big-fat-doody-head when I replied to your comment in a way that apparently bruised your gossamer ego.

      2. I agree, I never understood why being mental ill is some sort of excuse.

        It’s only an excuse in very narrow circumstances.

        Much more narrow than most people know or understand. The legal definition of insanity is much stricter than the actual medical definition.

    2. VG Z, are you like 13 years old? Because you have the same political positions as I did when I was 13.

      1. So you’ve regressed since then?

        Sorry I don’t give a shit about some crazy guy that killed someone. They’ve demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to maintain their medical regime themselves and that once of their meds that they are violent and a threat to other people. So unless you are prepared to keep them locked up in a medical stupor for the rest of their lives they are a threat to other people. And I don’t see a big difference between doing that and locking them up with no possibility for parole or killing them.

        All of the hand wringing is just self moralizing bullshit imo, ymmv.

        1. No, the childish part is thinking that what you give a shit about should matter. I don’t give a shit about people who break into houses and steal shit. And I get a little satisfaction when a homeowner manages to shoot one of the fuckers. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care if they are all taken out behind the police station and shot.

    3. Feeling sorry has nothing to do with it. The question is did he receive due process.

      Although I am pretty opposed to the death penalty, I am sort of sympathetic to your point of view. Some people are just dangerously insane and just need to be out of circulation. Whatever happens, this guy is going to be deprived of life or freedom.

  5. My Anthropology professor specialized in studying prisons. According to him, the demographic that would overwhelmingly agree with you are prisoners.

  6. This meant the state must now prove that Panetti’s schizophrenic delusions don’t inhibit him from understanding the reason for his punishment.

    If we apply this standard to non-death-penalty cases (and why shouldn’t we?), then I see an awful lot of people getting out of jail and/or involuntary commitment.

    And, no, I don’t buy the claim that involuntary commitment to a mental hospital is anything other than a form of punishment.

    So, this standard troubles me. I suspect it was put in place as a sub rosa attack on the death penalty (which I express no opinions of), but treating it at face value as a statement of principle, I think it goes too far.

    1. “And, no, I don’t buy the claim that involuntary commitment to a mental hospital is anything other than a form of punishment.”

      It isn’t punishment for a crime.

      Listening to my girlfriend’s sister talk at the Thanksgiving table for an hour is punishment, too.

      Certainly, confining someone to a mental hospital because they’re a danger to themselves or others isn’t a punishment like executing them becasue they chose to commit a crime is a punishment.

      1. Certainly, confining someone to a mental hospital because they’re a danger to themselves or others isn’t a punishment like executing them becasue they chose to commit a crime is a punishment.

        No, but confining someone indefinitely to a mental hospital because they demonstrated their danger to themselves or others by committing a crime for which they are unfit to stand trial is very much like confining someone indefinitely to a prison because they demonstrated their danger to themselves or others by committing a crime for which they were convicted. It’s a distinction with precious little difference outside of semantics, but it’s the only way to split the baby when you don’t want to hold someone criminally liable due to their mental deficiencies and also don’t want to expose the public to the repercussions of that policy. If it helps you sleep calling a rose by any other name, then mazel tov, but that’s all you’re doing.

        1. One respects the accused Constitutional rights (starting with the Fifth and Sixth Amendments).

          The other one doesn’t.

          If you can’t contribute to your own defense, you can’t get a fair trial.

          If the judge substituted whatever you wanted to say to your defense attorney for the mad ravings of a stranger, we’d say that was unfair.

          Denial of due process at the very least.

          And that’s just getting warmed up.

          1. The difference in process doesn’t change the nature of whether locking someone up indefinitely is or is not a “punishment” for practical purposes though.

            Arguably, throwing someone in a cage on the word of a psychiatrist is as much as denial of process as throwing them in a cage after letting them represent themselves in kangaroo court. They’re means to the same end: we can’t let mentally ill people who kill others wander the streets based on their innocence, and we can’t hold them criminally liable either. Psychiatric confinement is essentially a euphemism in these cases.

            1. I can’t believe I’m having a discussion with someone on libertarian site about how there’s a difference between locking someone up with due process and locking someone up without it.

              You paint yourself into corners all the time, PM. It’s okay to change the way you think about things based on arguments you haven’t really considered before. I learn new things here all the time! We’re libertarians–not objectivists.

              1. I can’t believe I’m having a discussion with someone on libertarian site about how there’s a difference between locking someone up with due process and locking someone up without it.

                You’re not, as much as you’d apparently like to be.

                And you can shove your pathetic attempts at condescension directly up your ass. If you want to deflect or just disengage do it honestly. If you want to try to talk down to someone, try your dog (you’d almost be qualified).

                Observe:

                Go fuck yourself you mendacious prick, I’m done talking to you now.

                See? Easy!

                1. “And you can shove your pathetic attempts at condescension directly up your ass.”

                  There wasn’t anything condescending about anything I wrote there.

                  I really do learn new things here, but if you find the suggestion that you might learn things condescending, then…I guess I really do feel sorry for you.

                  “Go fuck yourself you mendacious prick, I’m done talking to you now.”

                  In PM parlance, that means he learned that locking people up with due process and locking people up without it are different today!

    2. If we apply this standard to non-death-penalty cases (and why shouldn’t we?), then I see an awful lot of people getting out of jail and/or involuntary commitment.

      Everyone convicted of drug charges for a start.

  7. The problem is a strong argument can be made that the vast majority of people who kill others purposely, especially under circumstances likely to lead to the death penalty, are mentally ill in one form or another.

    Sane people do not callously kill others. This of course is the end-game those opposed to the death penalty are shooting for – if you have to be insane to commit a crime worthy of the death penalty, you are too insane to be executed.

    Joseph Heller would be proud.

    1. Sane people do not callously kill others.

      Depends on what the meaning of “callously” is. A strong argument can be made that a sane person might perform a risk-benefit analysis of killing someone and act accordingly.

    2. Sane people do not callously kill others.

      History would seem to suggest otherwise. Most of the murders committed this century (especially ones committed under the aegis of the state, such as those which occurred under the commies and the fascists) were undertaken by downright normal people. Your serial killers and psycho stalkers are pikers compared to the average member of the homo sapiens, under the right conditions.

      1. Most of the murders committed this century (especially ones committed under the aegis of the state, such as those which occurred under the commies and the fascists) were undertaken by downright normal people.

        This. A lot of people don’t want to believe that “normal” non-crazy people are capable of murder, probably because to recognize that is to recognize that they themselves, under certain circumstances, could be capable of killing someone.

        1. Disagree. Everyone is capable of killing someone, but it is a huge leap in state of mind to get to that place in order to do it in cold blood, aka murder. Under my current mental state, I would kill someone in self defense. There is no way I would murder someone in cold blood unless something snapped inside of me that no longer made me the person I am today, even if for only a brief period of time.

          What about brainwashing? Isn’t that a form of mental deficiency? Should all of the Nazis have been let off the hook?

          1. Most Nazis (as in party members, not the leadership) were, weren’t they?

      2. But conditions are key. I think that it is not too far off reality to say that very few sane people in times of relative peace and prosperity, living civilian lives would up and kill someone.
        I suppose there are a lot of sociopaths out there who would kill someone if they could benefit and saw a good chance of not getting caught. Whether they should be considered insane is an open question. I’d say not for legal purposes, but psychologically maybe.

  8. What court adjudicated Scott Panetti as severely mentally ill?

  9. Probably into the tens of millions of dollars and 22 years worth of legal wrangling counting angels on the head of a pin to determine whether a basket case murderer spends the rest of his life doped to the gills drooling into a cup in the corner of a public psych ward or doped to death strapped to a gurney at the state pen.

    Justice is apparently dumb as a well as blind.

  10. I have a philosophical problem with “punishment.”
    Restitution, sure. Prevention, sure. “Punishment”? Hmmm.

    1. The “we gotta make an example” always gets me. They openly advocate excessive punishment. You want restitution, prevention? Sure as hell aren’t gonna get it by locking em in a rape box and forcing them to check “felon” on every job app when they get out.

      1. I believe in punishment for crime. Not to “make an example” or “to teach you a lesson,” but as a natural consequence of actions taken. If you put a penny in the light socket you get shocked. If you violate the laws agreed upon by society (SLD, assumes a just law), you get punished by society.

        The form of punishment is up for debate. Currently we use incarceration, with execution in extreme cases. What is your replacement for incarceration?

        1. Ah — you’ve touched on the problem. “Laws agreed upon by society.”
          I assume that I’m a part of society, but I don’t recall agreeing to these laws. And no one I ask can recall agreeing to them, either.

          1. And who, exactly, is this “society” of which you speak?

            1. So you don’t agree that not murdering people is a law agreed upon by society?

              Don’t we libertarians all agree that the use of force, or violation of the natural rights of man is against the law?

              Our laws a little bit different as libertarians, because they are universally recognized, they are part of what makes us human.

              I think you just got ahead of yourself when you saw the similarities to the social contract in his words.

            2. Since you live in a specific state/city/country, these are among the societies you belong to. You participate in the selection of representatives to various levels of government who agree to the laws in your name. If you choose not to vote, you allow those in your various societies who do vote to make that selection for you, and acquiesce to that selection by your silence.

              To take a specific example: Johnny B robs a bank and kills the security guard. He is caught coming out the door. Since you oppose incarceration, and assuming a fair trial and conviction, what should we do with Johnny?

              1. Ugh, no.

                The correct answer is that we as human beings all have natural rights.

                The only legitimate laws are those that protect these natural rights, the voting habits of society have nothing to do with them.

                Under your ideology, society can pass a law that says you must murder Jews on sight.

                There is no inferred acquiescence. Each person has legitimate rights that they acquired by being born. Society cannot change those rights by changing laws. They can force you to follow laws through the monopolistic force of government, but you have every right to fight back, fuck what society voted for.

              2. Since you oppose incarceration,

                Jesus. They’re coming outta the woodwork.

                1. I’m sorry I kind of stood up for him, my bad.

                  1. I appreciate both of your responses, Paul. I have some understanding of the concept of natural rights, and agree with you. Note that in my original post I specified just laws.

                    I was trying to respond to CN’s comment that he doesn’t recall “agreeing to these laws. And no one I ask can recall agreeing to them, either” by pointing out that in a representative government, we elect legislators to create the laws to protect our rights. I was trying to cram too much into one post, and screwed up.

                    As for inferred acquiescence, how else do we interpret it when someone declines to express an opinion?

                2. Fine. You have a problem with punishment. Still waiting to hear what we do with Johnny after he robs a bank and kills a security guard.

        2. How many of our laws are out there which “teach a lesson”? Weed? Min wage? Buy Health Insurance? Pay your SS? They own us and they do it by conflating bs crime with real crime in order to protect the extortion they have imposed on us. Trusting the govt with the ability to punish is like trusting diarrhetic dog not to crap on the carpet.

        3. a natural consequence of actions taken

          That would be an odd definition of “natural”.

        4. What is your replacement for incarceration?

          I pretty much agree with CN, so I’ll take a shot at it. Don’t replace it. Use it for prevention, not punishment. I think prison should be reserved for people who are too dangerous to allow out among decent people. Basically people who would probably end up justifiably killed in self defense if they were allowed to be free. And for people who don’t pose sufficient danger to others, restitution to the victims should be adequate consequence.

          1. I’m not trying to be snarky here, but that sounds like locking people up for what the might do. How do we determine that they are too dangerous to allow out until they’ve done something to warrant it — at which point isn’t it punishment for past actions?

            1. Valid questions that I don’t have firm answers to.
              It is locking people up for what they might do, but only people who have been proven to be willing to do bad things already. I’m not suggesting locking anyone up who hasn’t already harmed someone.

              Maybe there is no real difference between what I suggest and using prison as punishment.
              Part of what I would argue for is also locking up fewer people who are convicted of crimes and instead making them pay restitution to their victims (obviously, in my preferred system there are no victimless crimes on the books). Prisons are just awful and they largely serve to create more opportunities for crime (both among inmates and for COs) rather than fewer. Which is another part of why I don’t like locking people up unless there is some practical necessity for doing so. Simply deserving punishment isn’t good enough reason to lock someone up in my view. Even if you favor more punitive sanctions for criminals, there are better ways to do it. I happen to think that certain forms of corporal punishment are much less cruel and inhuman than prison and would still have pretty good deterrent effect.

              1. It is locking people up for what they might do, but only people who have been proven to be willing to do bad things already. I’m not suggesting locking anyone up who hasn’t already harmed someone.

                Maybe there is no real difference between what I suggest and using prison as punishment.

                So, if I robbed a bank and killed a security guard, you would lock me up not for the crime I had committed, but as preventative detention to keep me from doing it again. Ok, I understand that. As you say, I’m not sure there’s a significant difference, but I can see where you’re coming from.

                I am curious how you work out sentencing for that. Once I’ve proved I can’t be trusted in society, is there a methodology for regaining trust? Or are all incarcerations for life?

                1. Another good question that I don’t have a good answer to.

                  I’m sort of on the anarchisty side of things, so when it comes to what government should do, it basically comes down to how to treat the least number of people unjustly. Government is probably inevitable, possibly necessary, but never truly good and just.

                  If I were to propose a really practical system that might actually happen, just getting rid of victimless crimes would get rid of most of the really bad problems and if we still argue over fringe cases like this, we are still a whole lot better off.

                  1. I suspect that you are right. Based on what I think I understand you saying, though, it sounds like you would only be jailing people for things like rape and murder, and I have no problem letting people who do that rot for life. Anything less can be dealt with using lesser punishments.

                    I can agree with lesser punishments for lesser crimes, but (looking back at your previous post) I’m not a big believer in deterrence. I believe that you punish the person who committed the wrong because they committed the wrong. Once the punishment is over, though, it should be over. You take your licking and then you move on.

    2. It’s more than a little baffling how your philosophy can accommodate “prevention” more easily than “punishment”. And not just because punishment is usually a component in prevention. Essentially you think it better to police actions before they happen than to repay them in kind after the fact?

      1. Essentially you think it better to police actions before they happen than to repay them in kind after the fact?

        And thus my suspicion is confirmed.

        1. That was actually a serious question, but I clearly made a mistake in taking you for a serious person.

          1. Oh, I realize it was a serious question. That’s the problem — that in posing it, you thought it was a serious question.

            1. Which, of course, at that point, I realize that there’s nothing to do but just try to have as much fun with you as I can.

              1. I guess it’s easier than actually following up on your non-sequiturs.

  11. a prisoner must also have rational understanding of the state’s reason for execution.

    When he buried the funiture in the yard he forgot accidentally ripped the tag off the mattress?

  12. Q: How high is this on people’s list of priorities?

    The number of people affected by this policy has to be in the low double digits, and the difference between being committed to a mental asylum for life and being executed (as would be the case for a “normal”) is not exactly a large one.

    I don’t support involuntary application of the death penalty, and that principle would apply just as much to the mentally ill as to the sane — but I also don’t see any compelling motivation to treat the mentally ill differently in this regard, if they are competent to stand trial.

  13. At his trial, Panetti wore a cowboy costume and a purple bandana and attempted to subpoena Jesus Christ, John F. Kennedy, and the Pope, along with 200 others.

    I suspect the jury probably thought he was acting insane. I could certainly see people seeing all that and thinking “No one could possibly be that bat shit crazy for real. He’s faking it.”

    That said, the fact that they let a paranoid schizo represent himself shows that the judge who allowed that farse to take place in his courtroom is probably also batshit crazy. And how the fuck did a jury find this nut to be competent to stand trial?

    1. And how the fuck did a jury find this nut to be competent to stand trial?

      It’s nuts all the way down.

  14. Well, Kramer is a racist…so there is that.

    Alt-text – “Up here, I’m already gone!”

  15. Can we execute the state of Texas for its apparently totally remorseless murder spree?

    1. Only if we get to execute you for your stupidity.

    2. Oh look. The one person who could change my mind in favor of the death penalty has shown up!

      1. If being a boring troll was a death penalty offense, 95% of America would be on the gallows.

    3. Only Tony would show up to decry the state of TX’s “remorseless murder spree” (how many remorseless murder sprees involve due process?)

      …by advocating a remorseless murder spree. But then again, mass murder is pretty much the go to move for facsist assholes, so it’s not that surprising.

      1. I’m adamantly against the death penalty for any reason, which makes me more libertarian than some of the people here.

        1. The issue with the death penalty among most libertarians is with the legitimacy of the legal system and the tendency of the state to use it to its own ends rather than for justice.

          I’m not against the death penalty theoretically, but my issue is the state and its power, something that asshat fascist shit for brains like yourself don’t have an issue with.

        2. Unless they don’t adhere to your political ideology.

          Then it’s up against the wall with you.

  16. I am not sure how (or even if) this really belongs in this conversation, but if you’ve never read any of Dr. Thomas Szasz’s stuff, as libertarians you might find it interesting. He believed and debated quite intelligently that there is no such thing as insanity.

    Numerous people think his philosophies were rubbish, but there is something very alluring about the idea that all action is a choice – even the actions we choose to call insane.

    1. So many people looking for reasons to justify the state killing someone this morning. Why are libertarians so torn on the easiest of libertarian questions?

      Szasz has things so wrong it’s hard to know where to begin. His claim that disease only exists when a physical, visible lesion or abnormality exists leaves out many non-psychiatric ailments everyone accepts as existing but which are defined by syndromes rather than physical manifestation (like migraines). Worse still, his ideas depend on a concept of mind/body duality that is just not part of science anymore.

      1. Hi Tony,

        I’m actually not using Szasz to defend the state killing anyone. I think the state is too incompetent to be trusted with that responsibility so I’m generally (though not completely) against the death penalty.

        I brought up Szasz because he’s got some interesting ideas about insanity and that’s where the conversation seemed to be going this afternoon.

        1. Yeah, sorry. I think the overall conversation is going the other way and presents real philosophical challenges for the future implementation of criminal justice. Which is to say, it’s becoming more and more convincing that even things we think of as free choices aren’t.

          Szasz might be described as a mental illness denier as many here are climate change deniers–and these positions are taken despite a lack of scientific support they present serious problems to a belief in a human agent-centric libertarian political worldview. A global environmental crisis is on its face a collective problem that can’t be resolved by libertarian means. To Szasz, mental illness presented a problem with a preconception of human free choice. But we shouldn’t try to force science into a political worldview, we should change our politics when science contradicts it.

          1. I’m not a mental illness denier, I know it is a real thing, I just do not believe it absolves a person of responsibility especially in the case of murder, the most heinous act.

            We are all products of our environment and genetics. Whether those things made you a cold blooded murderer or not, and to what degree should be irrelevant. If a crime was committed, and you are the person who committed that crime, you should be held responsible no matter your genetics or the environment you were brought up in. Anything else absolved everyone of any responsibility, which I can see why progressives love the idea.

            Whether one believes in the death penalty or not is not even the issue here.

          2. But we shouldn’t try to force science into a political worldview, we should change our politics when science contradicts it.

            Toppest motherfucking kek of all time.

            OF ALL TIME!

            1. Sad thing is that it makes perfect sense to Tony.

      2. From an abstract position, what is the difference between you and your brain. If your brain is a diseased in a way that makes you think terrible things and act in terrible ways how is that really different for YOU being a terrible person.

        I mean, seriously, unless you believe that the mind can be separated from the brain, that’s just nonsense. if you want to declare your faith in Jesus Christ now, go for it, but unless you believe in a “soul” separate from the body, then “you” ARE your brain.

  17. Way back when, I was a jailer in a town that was/is basically Mayberry. We had this one inmate(let’s call him Eric) several times and he was crazier than a shithouse rat. Except he actually wasn’t crazy. He just didn’t mind looking crazy because of all the perks that come from people thinking you’re insane. He used to shit in the middle of his cell and use it to paint murals on the wall(and he would always give himself a shit moustache but each time in a different style) he’d scream at imaginary people in court. He’d make up his own languages, piss in the middle of the day room, and accuse the judge of stealing his shoes. We took him to a mental health facility for evaluation and observation once, and I guess he thought he needed to put on a real show for them. They put him in a restraint chair almost immediately and he managed to get out of it before the deputy even finished filling out the paperwork. Not sure why I felt the need to share this story, but it all seems a lot funnier looking back on it.

    1. At what point, if you’re living the role, is the “act” no longer an act?

      1. Good question, but Eric was nowhere near that point. He could turn it off or on at will, and used it for protection and to get what he wanted. He was a real small guy with a really big mouth. Most of the times he was arrested he would do crazy shit either to freak out the other inmates or get himself put in isolation. A few times, when one of his friends was also locked up he would just be his normal self. Problem was, his normal self was an asshole with a big mouth and eventually we would have to put him in isolation to keep half the inmates from beating the piss out of him while the other half held him down. The first time he got put in isolation”unwillingly” he went crazy and shit painted the walls. The second time, our shift supervisor told him if he shit on the walls he’d sleep in it that night and the next shift would deal with it. He got real calm after that, I got him a book and he sat their and read quietly. He was always especially crazy in court because he hoped the judge would send him to a mental facility instead of jail.

  18. He has no more or fewer rights than anyone else. The death penalty is wrong no matter who is being executed while helplessly being murdered- mentally ill or not.

  19. Why should anyone care about his mens rea? We kill mad dogs, don’t we? Nobody blames the dog, it just needs to be killed.

    1. We also kill non-dangerous dogs when it is convenient to do so (e.g. when they are old and sick), which most people don’t find morally acceptable for people.

  20. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.jobsfish.com

    1. No, no anonbot, this is an execution thread. Try to stay on topic.

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