Court grants emergency stay of execution for Florida man who killed 8
October 23rd, 2012
09:40 PM ET

Court grants emergency stay of execution for Florida man who killed 8

Editor's note: A diagnosed schizophrenic convicted of killing eight people in Florida in the late 1970s is awaiting word as to whether his execution will go forward. John Ferguson had been scheduled to be executed Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET at the Florida State Prison, but a district court has granted him a stay. Read below for updates.

[Updated at 11:30 p.m. ET]   There will be no execution of John Ferguson Tuesday night. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-second attempt by state authorities to allow the lethal injection of the Florida death row inmate to proceed as scheduled.

[Updated at 9:40 p.m. ET] The fate of a death row inmate in Florida is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time Tuesday, after a frantic day of appeals from lawyers for John Ferguson.

In the latest legal move, Florida officials asked the justices to allow the lethal injection to proceed as scheduled, after a federal appeals court in Atlanta blocked the execution from taking place.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue an order sometime before midnight.

The high court earlier in the day had allowed corrections officials to go ahead with the capital punishment, but Ferguson's legal team went back and asked the appeals court to intervene. For now he remains on death row. Florida officials said Ferguson was being readied for the procedure when notified of the latest appeal.

[Updated at 8:50 p.m. ET]The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta has issued a stay of execution, so the state of Florida has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

[Updated at 7:26 p.m. ET] The U.S. Supreme Court has denied all three of Ferguson's appeals. However, a new appeal has been filed at the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, press secretary with the Florida Department of Corrections.

Ferguson's execution had been scheduled for 6 p.m. ET. Rackleff said her department is waiting to learn whether the execution will go forward today.

Ferguson had no visitors today, Rackleff said. In anticipation of the execution, he had a "last meal" of a country fried sandwich and sweet tea, she said.

The 11th Circuit court is the same court that lifted a stay of execution granted by a lower federal court. The lower court had granted the stay because of concerns about Ferguson's mental capacities.

[Updated at 5:29 p.m. ET] The U.S. Supreme Court has denied two of Ferguson's three appeals seeking stays of execution. We're still awaiting the decision on the third.

[Updated at 4:08 p.m. ET] It looks like all of the appropriate briefs have been filed for the Supreme Court to consider John Ferguson's case, CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears reports.

The decision should come in the next few hours.

[Updated at 1:25 p.m. ET] Laurel Bellows, the president of the American Bar Association, who rarely comments on upcoming executions, said she was "alarmed" by the John Ferguson case.

Ferguson, scheduled to die tonight in Florida, has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

Here's Bellows' full statement:

"The American Bar Association is alarmed that Florida is poised to execute John Ferguson, a man diagnosed as severely mentally ill for more than 40 years, before the constitutionality of his execution is fully evaluated. Although a district court evidentiary hearing regarding Ferguson's competency is scheduled for Friday, that could be too late: His execution could occur as soon as today.

A federal trial judge had stayed Ferguson’s execution and ordered the hearing to afford 'full, reflective consideration' of Ferguson’s constitutional claims; however, that stay has now been lifted by the court of appeals. In the interest of justice, it is imperative that Ferguson’s execution be again stayed until there is an opportunity for the federal courts to fully review his insanity claims on the merits and thus ensure that his execution will be constitutional. To do otherwise would be to risk a terrible miscarriage of justice — one that can never be undone."

[Posted at 10:00 a.m. ET] The attorney for a Florida man convicted of killing eight people asked the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday for an emergency stay of execution, he told CNN.

John Ferguson, a diagnosed schizophrenic, is on death row for the murders in Hialeah and Carol City, Florida, in the late 1970s.

He was scheduled to be executed Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET at the Florida State Prison.

The Supreme Court "has said it’s a ‘miserable spectacle’ to execute the insane," Chris Handman, the Washington D.C.-based attorney for Ferguson, told CNN. “We think the court should intervene to stop that execution from going forward today."

Read the petition (PDF)

Handman said a court found that Ferguson was mentally ill and had delusions which caused him to think he is the "Prince of God." A stay had been granted by a federal district court because of concerns about his mental capacities but that ruling was reversed by an appeals court.

"We think there are substantial constitutional questions here that will merit the Supreme Court of the United States to honor the stay of execution," Handman said. "We hope to hear from the Supreme Court in the next few hours."

In the meantime, officials at the prison in Starke, Florida, will go ahead with preparations for the execution, including fixing Ferguson's last meal, Misty Cash with the Florida Department of Corrections told CNN.

soundoff (368 Responses)
  1. Debbie Jelinsky

    he should be executed..he is living his victims are not..besides he thinks he is the prknce of god..at 6pm he will meet him personally, though i think god will send him to the devil! lmao

    October 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Don

    I love the law and order mentality of the Bible Belt.
    Just how many people did Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of the Old Testament, condemn to death or kill?
    Answer: 0

    He raised people from the grave. He did not put anyone in the grave.

    There is no reason to kill the insane. Medication administered in a controlled environment like a mental hospital or prison will keep him from harming people.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TheBigSarge

    bet he has tv or internet access. who cares if he is in a 8×9 cell. he should be in a 7'x3' box, 6' under.

    -TheBigSarge

    October 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • teamroper

      Right on, Big Sarge!

      October 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jordi Heguilor

    Why don't we use nitrous oxide ("laughing gas", the one used by dentists) instead of lethal injection? It would be a quick and painless death, and we wouldn't have to try to find a usable vein on heroin addicts.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Thomas A. Hawk

    I think the point of the appeal is that, under the law, the condemned has to understand that he is being executed and why he is being executed. The question would be if these tests are passed or not.

    I'm not saying that I agree with the law. I'm saying that is the law (as best as I understand it).

    To those who disagree with the law, if your feeling are strong, I suggest you should be trying to get the law changed. (Anyone who called him an animal appears to feel strongly. So, who among you, who feels strongly, has done more than complain on these boards about the issue? Have you at least written your representatives? I have. Have you?)

    October 23, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. siculari

    Can we speed up the process? Do it sooner rather than later?

    October 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Alex

    Murdered 8 people and decades lived free. When will America learn. Why would we afford this man he denied 8 others.
    Crazy or not crazy put him down. Otherwise, we cannot imprison an insane and let him go free and send some more people to their ends. I find most people pleading insanity are just acting. If they are sane enough to murder they are sane enough to die for that crime.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas A. Hawk

      Clearly you don't like the state of the law. What have you done to try to change it? Some, not many, but some, including some psychologists, have recommended that we just eliminate people like that. It wouldn't be punishment. They'd just be killed to get rid of them. That seems consistent with what you want. Why don't you join those people? (Or have you?)

      October 24, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Annie

      I see. And are you a psychiatrist, Alex?

      October 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. cbt

    If in 40 years the courts haven't been able to determine whether or not he is insane, shame on them. But this sounds like one more last minute last ditch attempt to avoid justice.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Canadian Jack

    The vast majority of mentally incompetent persons do not commit murder. This man's mental state could not have predicted he would necessarily kill. To kill an innocent person takes choice. If you choose to kill an innocent person society has the right to choose to kill you for doing that. It is far cheaper for society to execute him than to keep in jail for the rest of his natural life. What type of a society would you be if you chose instead not to execute anyone. You would not be a sucker society. In fact you would join most of the English speaking countries in the world. In might also have the effect of turning you into a much kinder society than you are now. Good luck to you all.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KC

    schizophrenic....everytime I hear of someone who has this commiting a crime...I actually do cringe. There are some that say "they don't know what they do". But the fact remains, they did it. This man did it. It doesn't make it right to say that he has this "problem" and should not be held accountable. There is no way to control this... So they are out and about in society, and we just have to hold our breath, and pray they do not attack us. Can pills control this? They say it can. But, do we just hope and pray that they take the pills???? My belief is, you do the crime, you do the time. 8 people dead. Who cares for the loved ones of those 8. Nobody. It is all about the perpetrators...no one else. Do I believe in the death penalty...I just don't know anymore!

    October 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. KAS

    So this guy claims to be the Prince of God, and he's considered insane, but people genuflect over someone that may or may not have lived a few thousand years ago and claimed to be the Son of God?

    Nice double standard.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jamie

    More excuses. The eight people he murdered were the true victims. They use the "he's been this way for 40+ years" excuse for sympathy but I hope it screws them; is that so? Then why was he out among the "sane"? Furthermore, if he's any kind of decent human being with a severe mental disorder, where is his remorse?

    October 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Alex

    are you kidding me , i'd inject him. You take a life you lose your ticket to stay alive. No three meals and cable. Feed him to the alligators and sell on pay per view money collected goes to the famlies of the people he murdered. Call " Prince of God vs Alligator " hahahaha of course we lube him up with O'dee tuna body lotion

    October 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. steven

    not a word about the victims

    October 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Susan

    "Updated at 4:08 p.m. ET] It looks like all of the appropriate briefs have been filed for the Supreme Court to consider John Ferguson's case," Isn't that special? Now if he only resurrect the dead and undo every miserable thing he's done, that would just put icing on his crazy cake.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
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