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. sorro

    Make me understand: the guy killed and was sentenced. If we deem it "cruel and unusual" to kill him when he is mentally ill, what can stop us from saying the same thing about keeping him in prison for the rest of his life? Maybe we should free him, because he did serve time 34 years, no?

    Re. appeals, I have only one thing to say: it's ridiculous! Lawyers will stop at nothing to get the man off the hook. There wasn't enough time to evaluate his sentence OR, on the contrary, too much time elapsed since he was sentenced... It's not enough to understand that he is executed and for what, now he needs to "appreciate the significance of his execution" (maybe we should require in the future that he AGREES with the sentence as well... :)) If he appeals, he gets 34 years more that he should have. If he doesn't appeal (as with latest execution of Eric Robert), then lawyers will argue he is insane because "who would ask to die?"

    There is no end to this... Just execute him and let it be over... at least for the victims' families. The man is a mass-murderer and that's all we need to know.

    October 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. nov_284

    So...he doesn't know any better and it makes me feel good. I don't see the problem. We shoot rabid dogs, don't we?

    October 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kristal

    insane lol not that cold blooded night kill him so he gets to know that after your dead thats it

    October 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • lesliee

      That was a profoundly absurd remark. Disregarding your refusal to think about the subject, how will he "know" after he's dead that "that's it"?

      October 23, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dtboy

    32 years after the conviction? Heck, what's the use in killing him now?

    October 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • sorro

      If it were only 2 years after the conviction, you would say there wasn't enough time to properly decide his case + all the appeals. So, what's really the "optimum" time period for a death sentence to be carried out, in your opinion?

      October 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fairfax241

      He should get one appeal, then if found guilty again, kill him within a week!

      October 23, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fernace

    About 6 yrs ago, in Tx, a supposedly mentally impaired man was on deathrow, whose lawyer claimed he didn't belong there since is IQ was in the low 50s! Don't remember his name or what he had done; I wasn't paying much attention to the story, until I saw his bespectacled face on the local news as he was ushered into court! I'll swear 'til the day I die that he was faking! His demeanor seemed stilted, yet purposeful! The way he arranged his face & looked around, knowing the cameras were on him, was very calculated! Psychopaths can & do fool people, even the best mental health professionals! Life in prison usually means 20 yrs, no parole means 'til next local admin takes office! Coral Watts (murderer in my earlier post) was given 60 yrs, but w/pleabargaining & time +1/2 for good behavior he was set to walk in 25! He told cops he'd kill again as soon as he got out! Luckily they found a case in Michigan to prosecute him for & he died of cancer in prison in '07! This is why Capital Punishment is necessary!!

    October 23, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • scary thought

      I actually met the DA who prosecuted Coral Eugene Watts. The man truly was a psychopath that was almost released due to plea bargains. I forgot how many murders he confessed to, but I think it was 11 or so. The investigations at the time in Texas and Michigan linked him to over 100 murders...think on that for a minute.

      He was most likely the most prolific serial killer in the history of the US and almost got released due to a plea deal...

      Another interesting note about that case was that he even said he had killed more people than he was willing to confess to but he would not confess to any more because he did not want to be remembered as a serial killer. Go figure.

      October 23, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. WORM FOOD.....

    The hangman's noose is quick and doesn't cost as much and your can use it again and again......

    October 23, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Go EatmoreSausage

    @ duckie
    Is it cruel to execute 8 innocent people who are unaware of the reason for their own executions?

    October 23, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lee Dukes

    thats too bad. All serial killers are insane if you ask me. Let him fry- why are we keeping this person around ?

    October 23, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sheldon

    His attorney's argument is that he shouldn't be killed because he is mentally ill. Is this to imply that there are murderers out there who are not mentally ill? What would it be like to meet a sane murderer?

    October 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • laura

      haha great point

      October 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robert

    I would like to know who is paying his attorney. It's probably the tax payer at $300 per hour!!!! Let's see how much this attorney cares about this man if we stop paying him. Do that and the many will be toast tomorrow.

    October 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • laura

      Death row inmates have unlimited access to attorneys. One of the things that make it much more costly to put someone to death rather life in prison.

      October 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    Sentenced to death and he sits around for 30 years on the taxpayer's dime? This should have been carried out 29 years ago.

    October 23, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Robert

    And it's the tax payer who is paying this attorney to file these endless appeals. He's not doing it out of high principle. Let's cut off his funding and see how long it takes for this convicted murderer to be executed. Mark my words, it will happen post haste!

    October 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • lesliee

      Idiots. It is more expensive to execute someone than maintain them to life in prison.

      October 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rosethornne


    Let me think.......

    Far more dangerous than a rabid pit bull, killed several innocent people.



    October 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael

    Put him out of our misery. This should've happened minutes after he was convicted of killing all those folks.

    October 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. just wondering

    i once heard some one say he the nut case should have just rolled up turds into little balls and played with them but instead he choose to kill some one ..... sorry..... karma a bicth taint it

    October 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
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