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. JPowers

    This guy has been on death row for 34 years.
    Quite long enough to exhaust any appeals.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Candw1

    An eye for an eye...... unfortunately he doesn't have 8 eyes. He was given the death sentence 34 years ago for God's sake for murdering 8 people, put him to death.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jamie

    The problem with the death penalty is that we don't use it enough.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Hard to say. First, there's the matter of punishment. If that's what we're trying to achieve, the death penalty puts an end to that punishment with certainty – and relatively quickly. Life imprisonment, on the other hand, goes on punishing for a much longer period of time. I know if I were given a choice between a quick, near-term death and decades deprived of all my basic freedoms, I'd pick the needle every time, without hesitation.

      Second, there's the matter of the scores of people sentenced to die who have been found not guilty in recent years, thanks to revisits of their cases, particularly with DNA testing. And the horrendous wrongful incarceration rates in many jurisdiction that have been so bad and so widespread that Illinois suspended all executions because faith in the conviction process had been so badly undermined. I don't have a problem with executing someone – but there has to be absolute certainty of guilt first. Our record on this front is horrible and appalling; until that gets sorted out, I'm happy with long term incarceration. At least, should the imprisoned by found innocent, some sort of amends can yet be made. After they've been wrongly killed, not at all.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Butchie67

      Hey SixDegress, after a number of years in prison it is no longer punishment. You know, no solution no problem. Also when Charlie Manson was asked, “You have been in prison for most of your life. Do you like being in prison?” Manson replied, “Beat a man with a whip he learns to like the whip.”

      October 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      I'd rather die. And even if what you say is true, it takes a very long time to get there. Death is quick and fairly immediate; even the formerly protracted appeals process has been considerably streamlined. For some crimes, it seems too easy.

      October 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • ug

      Your right...we take care of these criminals better than most people are taken care of...

      October 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. christina

    Why is being insane a free ticket to do whatever you want? The world is better off without him so execute him. I don't buy that insanity plea BS. I don't care if you are schizo, if you kill 8 people you should be executed. There is obviously no way to rehabilitate him and he is a burden to society.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Thank you. I couldnt agree more. Being mentally ill gives you a free pass to kill?

      October 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • duckie

      It is cruel to execute someone who is mentally unaware of the reason for their own execution.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richie

      It sure is disheartening when you see a woman espouse such boorish and un-lady like aggression. Christina, women are purported to be the more intelligent gender. Gentler and thoughtful and wiser. So, what happened to YOU?

      October 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jessica

      It's also cruel to the families of those killed to know that this man will finally pay for his crime only to get a pass. Regardless of what kind of mental issues this guy had.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathan

      In what universe is life in prison a pass? Do you think that if the Supreme Court issues a stay, they buy him a bus ticket and send him on his way?

      We are one of a dwindling number of countries that engage in state-imposed revenge murders. Do we really want to be left behind with countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran?

      October 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Being insane is not a "free ticket" to anything. The accused must very specifically be deranged to the point where he is incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Simply being diagnosed with a mental illness, by itself, doesn't get you a free pass.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • larper2

      If it s cruel to execute the mentally ill, why is ti not cruel to have a mentally ill person kill others? Get rid of him and he will not suffer from the memory.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Is it any less cruel to imprison a person for the rest of their life who is "mentally unaware" of the reason for their incarceration?

      October 23, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • sorro

      @Nathan - I would agree to give him life instead of death provided that (1) the victims' families are ok with this AND (2) you (and other anti-DP activists) undertake in writing to pay for his stay in prison. And don't argue DP costs more, please... It only costs more because we allow so many appeals, when it should be a thorough but quick and clear process (no more that 1 year from sentencing).

      October 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      "Is it any less cruel to imprison a person for the rest of their life who is "mentally unaware" of the reason for their incarceration?"

      Maybe so. But if there really is a mental illness involved, there is at least the possibility of curing that illness.

      October 23, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      "But if there really is a mental illness involved, there is at least the possibility of curing that illness"

      And then what? If you cure him, do you release him? Tell him it's OK he killed 8 people, he didn't know what he was doing was wrong, but NOW he does? Or do you keep him in prison for the same reason? If the latter, then it is no longer cruel to execute him due to his mental illness, which no longer exists.

      October 23, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. aktap

    What kind of life well this man have in prison, None. He's better off if the state just puts him to sleep. its not like he can ever be free on the outside again. death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. set his soul free to be with Jesus, its the right thing to do.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      It costs a lot more to put someone to death than keep them for life in prison.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grim Reaper

      Are you wacko? This person did the crime and he should pay the price. Being the Prince of God does not give him the right to live beyond Though shall not kill or you will suffer the inequity of being equal to those he chose to do harm to. Let him die, I need another soul to help comfort my Brother Grim Reaper in the White House that is distroying American.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • larper2

      They always say that it cost more to stop the executions. The answer is to put them in regular comfinment until that great come and get it day, the execution day that is.

      October 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • TDM

      Grim, you made sense until the last sentence. Then you blew it with one ridiculous statement.

      October 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joan

    If he's the "Prince of God," he can resurrect the eight people that were killed. If he can;t, carry out the sentence.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill


      October 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Richie

    Jamie is a fine example of a lot of what's wrong with this country. Redneck, vigilante right wing mentality. The U$A is one of the only nations in the world that still practices capitol punishment. Amerikkka and people like Jamie need to turn off their TV, put down that out dated bible, read a book and wake up. Jamie, this is not the old west, no matter how badly you want it to be.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Grim Reaper

    You owe your soul to the death toll. Come to me Prince of God, you are now the prince of death and I cannot wait.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Richie

    It sure is disheartening when you see a woman espouse such boorish and un-lady like aggression. Christina, women are purported to be the more intelligent gender. Gentler and thoughtful and wiser. So, what happened to YOU? Oh yeah, i are an uneducated, overweight, uncivilized white trash that lacks culture and sophistication.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Susan

    5:31 pm Florida Time and no word from the Justices?

    October 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. taxedmore

    the thing killed 8 people, kill it and stop throwing away the taxpayers money

    October 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathan

      It costs more to execute him.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • larper2

      Nathan, he is at the end, don't worry how much more to execute him when he is almost there at the end of the rope.....

      October 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • sorro

      @Nathan - It only costs more to execute him because we allow so many appeals. Have one appeal with a mandatory maximum 1 year judging (include DNA in that, if you want), and then execute him. All this nonsense about insanity, re-sentencing, re-evaluation, bla bla is ridiculous...

      October 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. johndcross1

    i don't have to worry. he will not die despite the execution. he is the prince of god, for heaven sakes. proceed with the execution!

    October 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      I suggest you don't bury him for three days, you know, just in case.

      October 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. SPENT

    I wonder how much money the state will pay the lawyer if this guy should continue to live?

    October 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Why Now?

    He's been diagnosed and on death row for over 40 years, and TODAY they are alarmed? Just sayin.

    October 23, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • TDM


      October 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Brandon

    he should have been executed 30 years ago!

    October 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
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