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. SPENT

    The entire "justice" system is in default. This is more money for the lawyers etc..Sick of em' all.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Susan

    If he didn't have an understanding of what has been going on for the past 36 years, why does he believe in having an attorney fight it for him then? Because he understands death, since he killed 8 people, and he doesn't want to die, just like those that did by his own hands.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jackie

    In the interests of justice this animal should have been put down about 30 years ago.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • professionalscold

      Hello Jackie Compassion,
      Not to get too biblical on you, but how you treat the weakest amongst us is how you shall be judged. No matter what, you'd better be PROOF POSITIVE that he's competent. If not then his death will be YOUR fault.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keel Hauler

      Jackie's fault? I think not. What has she to do with it? She's merely stating her opinion, one that I share.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Let us not forget that he was not so week that he was not able to kill eight people. Let him be judged by the highest power. He can have an appointment.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • brendan

      It is really amazing that on the day he is scheduled to be executed, then people speak out to try and save his life. This issue should have been dealt with a long time ago. It is time for the Prince of God to meet his maker

      October 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • eric

      I agree with your thinking assuming he had a chance to plead insanity at his trial which I am sure was available. He has had 30 years to continue to argue that he is insane. A trial jury did not think so and an appeals court does not think so. At some point he needs to pay the price that God set in the Bible for murder which is death. His death will be on his head since his actions (multiple murders) merit it.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas A. Hawk

      Eric, if a person were to plead insanity, on his own, I'd tend not to believe him. The plea would have to come from a lawyer to make sense.

      October 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Keel Hauler

    I don't have a problem with the execution of mentally ill people who do terrible things. They are, themselves, terrible things.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesus is Lord

      I wonder how God sees you...

      October 23, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. woodin

    put the murderer down already.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Susan

    John Errol Ferguson dressed up as Florida Power and Light employee in his first murders and then dressed up in Police uniform to be able to walk up on young couple parked at a lover's lane spot. That required planning and premeditation. His whole he's the "Prince of God" BS is just another costume to get himself out of the trouble he put himself in. And he's had 35 years to perfect it.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Keel Hauler

    We don't have the death penalty. We have a useless, morality-stricken, drawn-out excuse of a process that provides nothing resembling justice and virtually ensures that any killer will spend decades thumbing his nose at the families of their victims while filing appeal after appeal. Thanks to bleeding-heart opposition, capital punishment in this country is more diluted than a teabag in the Atlantic Ocean. Refine the process and it WILL be a deterrent.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dot Hage

    Hoping you will report on the attack on Sharmeka Moffitt.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. James

    O.K. I will say this. If you are on a jury and you have been given the duty of deciding on life and death for a fellow human. They don't just walk in and say do this. Nope they do a "fairly" good job of giveing you the information you need to make that decission. There is alot to it. The defence will also pull out all the stops to convince you that you don't want to do this.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tendofreak

    may cost more but I'm still of the camp that says "pour the juice on and fry the bas-turd!!"

    October 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Richard

    Mentally ill or not, he killed. He does not need to be on this earth.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. M.E.

    I find it deeply disturbing how many commenter think it's ok to execute a man who is insane. Never mind how barbaric the death penalty is in the first place. This man was in no fit mental state to understand his existence along with the existence or non-existence of others. Yet you would all love to see him dead. Makes me want to vomit.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ronnie

      I think it helps to read the history of his crime. He was not "insane" at the time he committed murder – he planned a crime – and killed people while committing the crime – had already committed violent crimes before the killing of these folks. He dressed up once in a Police Officer uniform for a different violent crime – for this current crime – it was as a Power and Light worker. He may be "insane" now after being on death row for 30 years – so what? He should have been put to death shortly after receiving the death penalty. There was no reasonable doubt about him being the killer in this case. He killed – the state has a death penalty – get rid of him. Just because he is supposedly insane now is just too bad – the state had years to execute him – before he was "insane." He should have been dead decades ago.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tlb813

    This is one big problem of our country, the time and money wasted on criminals. I never heard mitt or obama speak anything of criminals and prisons when they talk about the deficit. They spend more on criminals than they do on school kids, they have medical benefits that half the hard working americans like me don`t have. They should all be in tents in the middle of the desert behind a fence. Until our government and the people realize that a criminal can`t take someone elses rights then claim they have the right to do it. Then this country will never change, example : when a criminal walks into a store with a gun and sticks it in someones face and robs them, that criminal lost his rights the minute he stepped into the store. No criminal can strip others of their rights and then claim they have rights. And any government that allows them to and protects and provides for them to do it, is ignorant

    October 23, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robear in Ojai

      the incarceration "industry" does not think it's money wasted. Au contraire! The whole so-called justice system is rigged with unfair laws to keep all those beds filled with warm bodies.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. TheBigSarge

    should have been put down a long time ago.


    October 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Derek

    Did I read this right? He commited these murders in the 70's and they still do not know if it is insane. I think maybe the attorney must be insane.
    I think I have housed and fed this criminal long enough. Lets juice him up and get it over with.
    Or are we all insane?

    October 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Jelinsky


      October 23, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
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