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. JCInter

    The tax dollars fed and care for this insane killer for 34 years, the state of Florida should had put him to death 34 years ago.

    October 23, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Im straightfoward and I know it

    Second mentally ill person to be executed... Is this to become the norm? Soon they will just execute you at birth if you are ill... Its called eugenics and your owners are bringing it back.

    October 23, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bdpete

    What possible benefit to society is there to execute the mentally handicapped? Will this guy even know what is happening to him and why? Is there a deterrent achieved? will other mentally ill folks give murder or other crimes a second thought because of this fellows execution? Some day a pill will be available to avoid this kind of tragedy. This is just a waste!

    October 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • norman

      he killed 8 people-we put animals down for doing far less-put this animal down

      October 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • rough Dia hunter

      What the "H" possible benefit is there to society in staying his execution? Are you smoking crack or what??

      October 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      @bdpete – "Some day a pill will be available to avoid this kind of tragedy", there is such a pill that already exists, it is called "Plan B" or "The Morning After Pill". We, as a society, do not execute people based upon who they are, or who they become, we execute people for the wrongs they have committed against the accepted norms.

      October 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • DDW 1946

      He killed eight people and we have been feeding, clothing, housing and providing free medical coverage for him for the last 35 years. That's the tragedy, it's way past the time for him to die.

      October 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • WestCoast

      So, it's 12:10pm here on the West Coast. That would be 3:10pm in Florida. What was the verdict? Stayed or is he now gone... just curious... CNN UPDATE PLEASE???

      October 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • WestCoast

      ...nevermind! Just re-read and it's set for 6pm. Still got time to go – will check back at 3!

      October 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • AM

      Nut Bag. Put this animal and the damn lawyer in the dirt already...

      October 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • franklovesfl

      benefits -

      * Cost – we dont have to feed, cloth, house and medicate him
      * Security - he can't escape and kill again. He won't be a danger to the staff or other inmates
      * Closure - the families of the victims wont have to read about him for the rest of thier lives.

      If you love life so mush, how about volunteering at a pregnancy center? Not the abortion ones. The ones that help unwed motheres, like Steve Jobs mother, find homes for their unborn children.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      What possible benefit to society is there for NOT executing this man? He will be a burden for taxpayers and serve no purpose for humanity. Why justify murder with insanity? How does that help the victims' families? Imagine if your loved one was killed and the judiciary told you, "It's okay because the killer was insane. No harm done."

      October 23, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • sensua

      The issue of deterrence at this stage is irrelevant. .. the question can be asked what possible benefit is there for the public to have to support this man for the next 20 years? He will not get better and he is a murderer who can never be released.. It is a moral issue but the families of the victims deserve some peace...especially after waiting 30 years to have this beast removed ..

      October 23, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tigger211

    I would say to kill him in the same manner that he killed his eight victims and that would probably be too easy for him.He was sane enough to kill eight times he ought be sane enough to die eight times.

    October 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fernace

    Let me tell ya'll a true crime story that I lived to talk about! I was staunchly against the death penalty, until I was abducted, in '82 by Coral Eugene Watts, the posterboy for it! He took me in my own car & drove me to a field! I spent 2 hours w/this man & since he knew he was going to kill me, he told me some things about himself! He said he was an Exterminator of Women, this was his Mission & knew who needed extermination by "the look in their eyes"! It still creeps me out that, at some point, I was close enough to him that he could look me in the eyes & decide I needed to be exterminated! I was 24! It's also in complete opposition of what he later told police, that his crimes were spontaneous, not premeditated! With willpower & luck I managed to escape, but 13 women in Houston were not so lucky! I had terrible PTSD for 3-4 yrs because of his '06 release date! Watts worked the system to his benefit, from day 1! Some people have no regard for human life & when caught should not be shown regard!!

    October 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • GG

      Powerful post! I hope those who think we should simply stock pile murderers read this to gain the insights from someone who has experienced it.

      October 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Wow! Glad you got away from him. People like that cannot be rehabilitated and can't be trusted in society.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Woooo. Rough story. I'm sure glad you got away also. I goo gled him. Lots on Internet about him. He sounds s c a r y. We are very very happy things weren't worse for you. MAY GOD PROTECT YOU ALWAYS.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      As Neil Peart wrote, "I can learn to close my eyes to anything but injustice." I'm sorry I don't have any answers, or anyting comforting to say. All I've got is outrage. People getting out and walking free after doing things like this really bothers me.

      October 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. j

    Even a dog or bear that kills a human is executed?

    October 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. KWS

    In many cases the lengthy appeals are ridiculous. When there is no doubt, with eye witnesses, trophies in the fridge, DNA all over the place, etc., etc., there should be a "bundled fast-track appeal process" that gets it all done in a few months, and then plunges in the needle. This has been manipulated into a gravy train for lawyers and prison guards.

    October 23, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Even though I was not born yet, I read about the attempted assassination of FDR in Miami's Bayfront Park in 1933. FDR was not hurt but Mayor Cermak of Chicago was severely wounded. The assassin was sentened for attempted murder. When Cermak died of his wounds, the assassin was electrocuted two weeks later.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. TS

    Capital punishment is only costly because we allow to many appeals one appeal and that is it. A criminal is a criminal there are no deterents for them, jail or death they don't care they will commit the crime regardless of what lies ahead. So if they kill and are found guilty just kill them right after their appeal is denied, a nice $2 bullet will do the trick.

    Every other criminal not sentrenced to death stays locked up in a cell for 23.5hrs a day, getting only rations to live off and give them a book to read each week they are there in prison. No weights,computers or anything else funded by honest working citizens!!

    October 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • GG

      They chop your head off in Saudi Arabia for murder in public. Tell me that's not a deterrent.

      October 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Daniel

    Did he become mentally ill while in prison? He should have been killed a long time ago. I am sick of working week after week. paycheck to paycheck, and wondering if I am going to have enough money to pay my rent, utilities, and grocery shop. But kill 8 people and develope an illness, or get too fat, or have your lawyer say capital punishment is wrong, and you have 3 square meals a day. No bills at all. You have a TV, books to read, and free medical care. Hello! Why are we trying so hard to live? This guy is doing great for killing 8 people!

    October 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. coyolxauhqui

    we don't need to keep violently psychotic murdering mentally ill people alive. if a dog so much as bites a person, we kill it. keeping him alive will accomplish nothing good.

    October 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    This story isn't anything like the 1940's, when the Nazi's executed disabled children and elderly citizens and political prisoners by proxy, because they weren't able to work and lead a productive life in a Polish work camp.
    How long down the road do you think, before they release James Holmes on "good behavior", as a result of what happens here?

    October 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LJ

    Seriously!!!! The article infers he has had this diagnosis for 40 years. Yet, now it is urgent? He committed these murders over 30 years ago, apparently was given the death sentence after being found guilty, do you see where I'm going with this? Now it's urgent? Also, as a mental health provider for years, I am aware that even Schizophrenics know right from wrong....just saying.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      Florida Board of Pardons and Parole let this man loose, even when 5 expert opinions, all doctors, warned them not to. He's only crazy when it suits him.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Susan

    This guy was deemed a 'threat' years ago and conned his way out of prison making the Parole Board think he was sane and that he didn't pose a threat. Then he goes out and kills 8 people and is suspected of killing 2 more. He's only 'crazy' depending on which side of the bars he wants to be on. Where were all the bleeding hearts while this guy shot six people execution style??

    October 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LDR

    So his insanity is an excuse to save his life, but what about the 8 people he killed? Where is the excuse for them? There is none. This guy is dangerous, he has harmed our society, he is not needed.

    How about, for once, we do something for the victims and their families, and toss this piece of trash out. He had his chance. His victims didn't. Thats the key difference here.

    Also, whats the point of having the death penalty if its not used or applied? Is that how Florida works? Has laws that they wont enforce? Why have such laws in the first place, if you aren't going to use them?

    October 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. franklovesfl

    Wouldn't this be a great nation if people fought this hard for the life of an innocent, unborn child?

    October 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
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