That's the title of an editorial in today's New York Times, and it begins our latest roundup of coverage of John Ferguson's case.
The Florida Supreme Court decided on Wednesday that the state can proceed with the execution next week of a 64-year-old inmate named John Ferguson. His lawyers immediately said that they will ask the United States Supreme Court to stay the execution and to review the case on grounds that Mr. Ferguson is mentally incompetent and that executing him would violate his constitutional rights as defined by the court in two earlier decisions.
The court must review the case. At issue are not only Mr. Ferguson’s life but also two differing interpretations of what constitutes competence: one Florida’s, the other the Supreme Court’s.
Mr. Ferguson believes that he is the Prince of God and that he is facing execution not for murders he committed but because of a conspiracy against him for being the prince. He believes that he cannot be killed and that he has “inner ears” so he can hear God whisper instructions. All of this is consistent with his being a paranoid schizophrenic, as he was diagnosed 40 years ago and many times since, including earlier this month.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who lacks the “ability to comprehend the nature of the penalty.” In 2007, the court clarified that a “prisoner’s awareness of the state’s rationale for an execution is not the same as a rational understanding of it” and that evidence of psychological dysfunction may result in a “fundamental failure to appreciate the connection” between his crimes and his execution.
Yet this is not the way Florida sees it. Florida law requires only “awareness” — that Mr. Ferguson knows he committed murders and is set to be executed. On that basis, a trial judge ruled last Friday that Mr. Ferguson was competent and could be executed, and the Florida Supreme Court upheld that view, saying no “stricter standard” of competence is required.
The Florida Supreme Court ruling in Ferguson v. Florida is available in Adobe .pdf format.
Christopher Handman, Ferguson's attorney, issued, "Response to Denial Today at Supreme Court of Florida." Here's the complete text:
“We are disappointed that the Florida Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that John Ferguson is competent to be executed. He is not. As the trial court explicitly found, Mr. Ferguson’s ‘Prince of God’ delusions are ‘genuine’ and the two expert doctors’ testimony was ‘credible and compelling as it relates to [his] documented history of paranoid schizophrenia.’ We will promptly file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Court to stay Mr. Ferguson’s execution and hear his case.
“Florida’s laws on determining mental competency for execution squarely conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007). And the Circuit Court’s rushed, abbreviated hearing violated Mr. Ferguson’s due process rights.
“Both the Florida Supreme Court and the Circuit Court in Bradford County failed to apply the correct constitutional standard under Panetti. They found that Mr. Ferguson was competent to be executed because he had a rudimentary factual awareness of his impending execution. But so did the prisoner in Panetti, but the Supreme Court there held that that was not enough. Just as in Panetti, Mr. Ferguson’s gross delusions that he is the Prince of God and is invincible deprive him of any “rational understanding” of the reason for his execution and the effect of that execution.
“It is undisputed that Mr. Ferguson is a paranoid schizophrenic. Over nearly 50 years, multiple State doctors have diagnosed him as profoundly mentally ill and suffering from hallucinations and delusions. No justice will be served by executing a very sick, elderly man.”
"South Florida mass killer John Ferguson faces execution on Oct. 23 after losing another appeal," is the AP filing, via the Republic.
Gov. Rick Scott has rescheduled the execution of a mass killer for Oct. 23 after he lost another appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Scott acted shortly after the justices Wednesday upheld a lower court decision that John Errol Ferguson is competent to be executed.
Ferguson is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court and seeking a stay of execution there.
"Florida high court upholds decision on executing Miami mass murderer," is David Ovalle's Miami Herald report.
Justices said there was “competent, substantial evidence” to support Bradford Circuit Judge David Glant’s ruling that Ferguson understands why he is to be executed — for eight Miami-Dade murders in the late 1970s.
Ferguson, 64, had originally been scheduled to die by lethal injection this week at the Florida State Prison in Bradford. A new date and time must now be set.
Defense attorneys have maintained for decades that Ferguson is severely mentally ill and his execution would be “cruel and unusual punishment.”
In his order, Glant acknowledged that Ferguson has a history of schizophrenia but that he exists now trouble free in prison and “there is no evidence that he does not understand” why he is to be executed.
The judge also noted that while Ferguson claims he is the “Prince of God” and will be seated at the “right-hand” of God after his death, his beliefs are not “significantly different than beliefs other Christians may hold,” Glant wrote.
Ferguson’s defense attorneys have criticized the court’s ruling. They filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, including testimony from two university professors who say Ferguson’s religious beliefs are not “normal.”
Earlier coverage of John Ferguson's case begins at the link.
Related posts are in the competency and mental illness category indexes. I added the compentency category index in April. Earlier posts dealing with competency to be executed are available under the Scott Panetti index.
The Supreme Court established standards to assess whether severely mentally ill inmates are competent to be executed in the 1986 case, Ford v. Wainwright; more via Oyez. Coverage of Scott Panetti's case begins at the link. More on the U.S. Supreme Court 2007 ruling in Panetti v. Quarterman is via Oyez.