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. terrinor

    The question is – can this guy be rehabilitated in ANY form? Would he be a significant threat to those who had to take care of him - nurses, doctors, other patients, guards, and other employees? If YES, then yes, I think it would be best for everyone if the execution went through. I know that sounds very cruel, but why should we endanger dozens of others who could best spend their time focusing on treating other patients or pursuing new treatments for this disease?

    October 23, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Given that he is schizophrenic and delusional, it is highly unlikely he could ever be rehabilitated. In cases like that, the courts will either come back with sentencing of Life without Parole, or Death. Considering his mental state, then that means he would end up being warehoused in a state hospital for the criminally insane, as opposed to a life sentence in a regular prison. How many hearings and how many appeals have been heard for him? How many times have relatives of his victims had to relive their experiences, including his trial?
      Because of all the families of the victims have to go through for any death penalty conviction, this is why I prefer Life Without Parole as a more suitable punishment. It has nothing to do with feelings toward the convicted individual and everything toward keeping the families from having to relive the same events at least 4 or 5 times before the resolution of the execution writ.

      October 23, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Alan S

      Terrinor: You wrote that you feel cruel for concluding that this murderer - a murderer of eight people - should finally be put to death, approximately 35 years after his conviction. I disagree. There's nothing cruel about your conclusion. Michael, who posted at 11:20 am, is correct: "what's cruel is asking the taxpayers to feed and house this animal for 30+ years."

      October 23, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Alan S

      To Joe from CT: I understand your argument, which many people have made. But my way of thinking is: if constant meritless appeals result in the death penalty being unwieldy, the answer is not to eliminate the death penalty, but to eliminate the meritless appeals.

      And I spent a large part of my life as a criminal defense attorney. I believe strongly in giving defendants their legal rights. But at a certain point, society also has a right - the right to say "enough". And after 30+ years, well, I think we've reached that point.

      October 23, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. Rusty Nail

    "I would rather allow for every guilty person to walk free than to execute one innocent person."

    I find that illogical, because if every guilty person walked free many more would be killed!

    October 23, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. snowdogg

    Just pull the switch on schedule... issue resolved.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bill D.


    October 23, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. geeze

    do it. he and many others are a waste. instead of spending more time and money debating. do it. speaking from a place where insane are all around. he would prefer it at the end of the day. release his demons. do it.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  6. GaPeach

    Anyone who kills is a little crazy but that doesn'tmean they should not get the death penalty! That is what most claim when they get daught.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Mad_Russian

      It's a not a claim in the case of this guy. Did you actually read the article? He's been diagnosed as schizophrenic. That's a clinical diagnosis, not a claim. Until you know someone that has a mental illness you'll never understand the other side of the coin. It's easy to just toss a person aside because of mental illness or maybe this guy's skin tone just doesn't happen to be light enough for pittance.

      October 23, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • @Mad Russian

      This guy committed a robbery and him and his partners tied up 8 people and then shot them in the back of the head....I'm sure you think this guy just needs a hug and a visit from Robin Williams, but the schizophrenia aside, he committed a horrible crime and should be executed....regardless of skin tone which, by the way, you are the only one who brought that up....

      October 23, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. Hahaa

    Ok. Then lets move him to D.C.

    Let yhim live their....

    October 23, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. LlamaSteve

    WHY! Why does it take 30+ years to close these cases. Do people really need to be on death row for that long?

    October 23, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  9. Hahaa

    Have you noticed a lot of last minute stays of executions recently? EVEN on people who DESERVE it? And they actaully WIN.....

    October 23, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  10. crabman

    bye bye now

    October 23, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  11. Michael

    Just tell him he's going to a special place and there will be cotton candy and balloons....I don't call that cruel....what's cruel is asking the taxpayers to feed and house this animal for 30+ years.....

    October 23, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. jennygirl

    who feels sorry for him because he's mentally ill? raise your hand. that's what i thought. killilng 8 people is killing 8 people.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  13. Killthemall

    With the advances in dna if your dna matches or you are cought with the smoking gun like in denver thier is no trail just kill them within 24 hrs that is the only way to cure violent crime thier is no reason to fear the death penalty when you are on death row for 20 plus years a bullet cost 50 cents and it needs to be a federal thing in every state kill get caught and no questions asked you are dead within 24 hrs of the dna comming back

    October 23, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Mad_Russian

      Worst ramble of run on sentences ever. Obviously you're whole take on justice already occurs in other countries that follow some form of communism. Yep, you just provided evidence that you're a communist.

      October 23, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  14. Constantine17642489;)

    Im so happy that another murderous clown like this one is gonna be executed and sent back to the depths of hell where IT belongs. Now we need to focus on executing the orange hair clown Batman movie shoorter:/

    October 23, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. Hahaa

    He was apart of a failed robbery. Killed 8 after his mask fell off.....

    Look up what he did!!! Mentally ill?! Really?

    October 23, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
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