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. dray24

    We need to stop caring about the mental capability of criminals. When convicted with a crime you are judged by the "people of the state of ____" Laws are written to protect the citizens from lawlessness and anarchy. When an individual commits such crimes their mental awareness should be a non factor. Defense attorneys love saying their clients have the mental capacity of a 10 year old...well a 10 year old knows not to kill 8 people. Fry him!

    October 24, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. Heywood

    if a rabid dog killed these 8 people would they put him down? I cant grasp how school children should go without books and supplies while money is poured into this animals defence and his 3 squares a day. We are running out of money, we cant have it both ways any more. if you have proven that you cannot live in society, you kill 8 people, no matter what you illness, its time to put you down.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ObamaRules-RomneyDrools

    Of course he's mental! He killed eight people!

    I mean, how much more proof do you need he's a mental case?

    Lock him up & throw away thekey..period.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jake1969

    A person's mental state really means little to me. If you kill for any reason other than self-defense you deserve to be removed from this world like a rabid dog. He killed 8 people! I believe the punishment should be purely linked to the crime and impact on familes...I don't care if it was a sophisticated genius or a mentally ill POS. I personally find mentally ill violent types and the types that can't control their emotions to be every bit as much of a threat to society as the cold serial killer. Off with him already.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynda Elaine

      Except for you adding the 'impact to the families' I agree with you wholeheartedly. Emotional impact to a family isn't a matter of law. I don't believe in all of those victim statements which are the in thing to do now in court. Either they are found guilty under the law and sentenced appropriately or not. The families feelings don't have anything to do with it.

      But this guy should have died a long time ago. This is exactly why the death penalty is not a deterrent.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RANDI


    October 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chris

    I've never understood this. The guy is clearly dangerous and has been known to kill. If that isn't enough to get rid of him I don't know what is. Even if he's mentality ill he should still be executed. I don't care if he's rocking, downs, autism, and schizophrenia. The penalty for killing people can be the death penalty. If you are human and you commit those acts...justice has to be served.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynda Elaine

      because maybe being dangerous isn't a criteria for execution? If so, an awful lot of people would be put down. He isn't dangerous to anyone anymore except himself.

      But if we are going to have the death penalty then it needs to be carried out. Otherwise get rid of it.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Matty

    Always a strange thing to me on wether or not a mass muderer is insane. No that is totally normal.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FactChk1

    Who are these EIGHT people he murdered? Do you think MAYBE they have confused This BLACK Killer with Colin Furguson the Long-Island Railway Killer??? I think This Black Mr. Furguson was convicted of killing 2 & may have murdered 2 otrhers prior to that but I don't know. I'm not CNN the TRUSTED SOURCE for NEWS.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. FactChk1

    So who are the 8 he murdered? CNN Or do all Black Killers named Furgeson look alike? Long Island Railway killer, Colin Furgeson? Funny they'd be executing him in Florida. This nut job was 21 & crazy when he committed the murders he was convicted for. Or, wait, is this the Plessy v Furgeson guy??? Jeez, CNN do some more journalism for me.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynda Elaine

      speaking of fact check...the guy would be over a century old if he was part of the plessy vs ferguson case.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • averagechic

      Fact Check on you both.... Plessy v Ferguson had nothing to do with insanity, murder, or possible misreported facts. That decision was on racial segregation. Geez. Relevant much???

      October 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    Far too much money is spent on these cases – all because of capital punishment. That's one of the reason the USA is one of the few remaining countries that still allow it.

    Mistakes are made, and of course if you make a plea you can get off without being executed, so the whole process is flawed. The USA looks like Iran, Pakistan, & China to the world when they execute someone that is mentally ill. The guy should just be locked up for life and the millions spent on appeals could be better spent if it was given to the poor or to the victims families. The only one who wins in these cases is lawyers who get rich off them.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jim Stryder

    Enough already! The Capital Punishment (Death) in the U.S. justice system is broken!

    34 years, appeal after appeal! This is outrageous. One post had it partially right, the Countries that perform executions, its time the process, and "appeal" issues be completely amended, lets get on with it!

    October 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Southern Guy

    You're kidding me. Get on with this. Eight people are dead at his hands, and he's still alive. Dole out the justice!

    October 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mo

    Not that I’m defending this guy, but why is it okay for a drunk driver to kill someone with their car and get off with 3 to 5 years in prison. Shouldn’t they get the death penalty as well - after all they were mentally impaired too!!

    October 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. eroteme

    Is this stay of execution a surprise?

    October 24, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. eroteme

    I have always wondered a bit about the 'last meal'. Sort of nice I suppose, but what it says is, would you like to have a nice meal before we kill you?

    October 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
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