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. angryersmell

    Fine, don't execute him, but this animal is still a waste of prison food and electricity. We need to start locking these guys in open air prisons with high concrete walls. Throw them enough tools and materials to take care of themselves, and if they can't hack it, so be it. He seemed to be pretty good at planning the murders of 8 people. Let see if he can grow carrots. If he can, clearly he's not that insane. If he can't, padded room for eternity and someone else gets his plot. Simple.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Shuffler

    In Florida it is OK to kill folks if you have some mental issue. If you are young you can kill folks too. It's considered a perk.

    The dead are just as dead as if someone of age or good mental heath had killed them...... and no one seems to care.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nobody N Particular

      Got news for you, even if you execute the person who committed the murder, the victims are still just as dead. Do you know why there is a death penalty, revenge, justice, or social protection? Personally I think of social protection, you don't what someone who is likely to kill again to get released and kill someone else, that is why we need a death penalty so that there is certainly that the offender will NEVER kill again. If that is the case, then insanity is not a valid reason to not execute someone, since we cannot make them sane, then the only solution is to execute them (like a mad dog). This is just my opinion.

      October 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ztom

      Nobody In Particular-

      I agree with your point about keeping these people out of society forever. So 2 ways to do that: Lock them up forever or death penalty. I have no problem with either. But I tend to prefer the "lock them up forever" option. This is because of 2 reasons: First there is always the remote chance that we will find out years later that the person was innocent. Doesn't happen often, but it does happen now that new techniques with DNA are improved, etc. Shame to find out they were innocent, but it's too late to let them go because they are dead. Second is purely financial reason. In our messed up system, it costs more taxpayer money to kill someone than to let them rot until they die.

      Because of these 2 reasons, I prefer to lock them up forever. Not for any moral reason. Just because of the cost and the possibility that it can be reversed, if new evidence comes up.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Personally I think of social protection, you don't what someone who is likely to kill again to get released and kill someone else, that is why we need a death penalty so that there is certainly that the offender will NEVER kill again"

      locking someone up for life achieves that same aim. And insane is that, insane. To compare someone who is mentally ill with a dog and should be put down because of it is bizarre.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lord Apathy


    October 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. alligator face

    it is absurd FOR ANYBODY to argue to save this animals life....he should have been executed within 6 months of his sentence.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Seriously, it's been 40 years already and the lawyer claims there's an "emergency" to save him. Is there any family left alive to witness and finally receive closure? I doubt it.
      I agree, 6 months or less after he was found guilty he should have, like the dog that he is, been put to sleep.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • dopey

      Sounds like the reaction of another animal.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. snowboarder

    it seems ironic that mental illness so often manifests with religious symbolism.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Byrd

    A prince of god you say? Good. Crucify him instead. Lots cheaper and helps feed the birds. Just like the last time.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      It's morons like you who also should be locked in a cell. Apparently you've got to find an excuse to blame the faith for everything.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Byrd

      Just feeding the birds and beasts of the field...just as you eat the body and drink the blood every Sunday. Cannibal.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chat Pata

    How about hanging all those who made him believe there is a god? If he is insane for acting upon the orders of an imaginary person, what about believing in this imaginary person in the first place? Doesn't it make the majority of Americans insane?

    October 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      Chat, how about not attacking people of faith at every opportunity you get? Just because you have no brain doesnt mean everyone has to also lack one...

      October 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. gggg

    Let's see. He's nuts. But he's violently nuts. He will always be violently nuts. It can't be fixed. He needs to be permanently removed from society with absolutely zero chance of reentering it. Fry his sorry butt. Give him a fatal injection. Shoot him. Hang him. Whatever. Just execute him and be done with it.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      so people that are mentally ill and violent should be killed? ok.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • MomOf3

      Wow, Cedar...way to twist that around. Defensive?

      October 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jojo

    Seriously people it costs more to execute than to keep them in prison and they spend the rest of their life facing it

    October 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. werthrough

    Why should they get ANY meal at all is what I always wondered?

    October 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mark

    It costs more to execute someone than to imprison them for life. This is simply not a cost effective way to run our society, Just lock them up.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Canadian Hobo


    October 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. louise

    Hopefully it will happen this evening as enough is enough.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JonathanL

    We should abolish the death penalty. This creep is better off dead. Keep him alive. Cheaper to feed him slop and keep him in a cage to protect good innocent people, and I won't have any blood on my hands.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tyrone redmon

    he should be executed.illness or no illness.anyone who executes another soul should get their soul executed.he killed 8.we disscussing this why?.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      because we are human and we realise people that are mentally ill have no control over their actions. thats why

      October 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
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