Advocates for John Ferguson, the severely mentally ill Florida death row inmate, have filed a cert petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. Here is the full text of a news release:
U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Stop Execution of Schizophrenic Florida Man
Execution set for Monday, August 5
John Ferguson has 40-year history of severe mental illness diagnosed by State doctors
(Washington, D.C.) Attorneys for John Ferguson, a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he is the “Prince of God” who will come back to life after his execution and has a 40-year history of profound mental illness, have filed a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Ferguson’s petition urges the Court to halt his execution in Florida on Monday, August 5 and hear his case because the Eighth Amendment bars executing the insane and the State used an outdated, unconstitutional standard to evaluate Mr. Ferguson’s competency for execution.
The petition can be accessed here. The American Bar Association and national and state advocates for the mentally ill are expected to file amicus briefs.
“John Ferguson is a sick, elderly man. Executing Mr. Ferguson would be an unconscionable violation of the Eighth Amendment and our shared values respecting human life. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that the Constitution prohibits the cruel and unusual punishment of executing people like Mr. Ferguson who have no rational understanding of why they are being put to death or the effect of their execution,” said Christopher Handman, attorney for Mr. Ferguson.
Mr. Ferguson’s certiorari petition asks the Court to review his case because (1) the federal Court of Appeals rubberstamped a decision by the Florida Supreme Court finding Mr. Ferguson competent, even though one of the federal appellate judges recognized that the State court had applied a “patently incorrect” legal standard for assessing competency; and (2) the Court’s intervention is necessary to resolve confusion among the lower courts about the correct legal standard for evaluating mental competency to be executed. Despite Court precedent, rooted in hundreds of years of English common law prohibiting the execution of the insane, individuals with severe mental illness continue to be executed in the United States.
Mr. Ferguson’s petition states that the Florida Supreme Court failed to determine his competency to be executed in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007). The Florida Supreme Court failed to follow Panetti and instead returned to an outdated standard for adjudging a defendant’s competency to be executed, a standard that the Supreme Court explicitly rejected in Panetti. Florida courts found Mr. Ferguson competent because he had a rudimentary factual awareness of his planned execution. In Panetti, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a mere factual understanding was not sufficient. To be deemed competent, the individual must have a rational understanding of the reason for his execution and the effect of his execution.
Mr. Ferguson has neither a rational understanding of the reason for his execution or the effect of his execution. Mr. Ferguson believes that he is the “Prince of God” and that after his execution, he will return in his same body, fight against anti-Christs with Jesus, save America from a communist plot, and rule the earth. He believes he has “inner ears” through which he hears God’s instructions. He thinks his conviction is the result of a Communist conspiracy. Like the prisoner in Panetti, Mr. Ferguson’s “Prince of God” delusions and belief in his own superpowers deny him any “rational understanding” of the reason for his execution or the effect of the execution.
Even the Florida courts found that Mr. Ferguson has a documented history of paranoid schizophrenia; that he is not malingering or “faking” his mental illness; and that he has a fixed grandiose delusion that he is the “Prince of God.” Under binding Supreme Court precedent, these findings of fact should bar Florida from executing Mr. Ferguson. But the Florida courts and the Eleventh Circuit have simply refused to follow clearly established precedent.
After suffering a traumatic brain injury at age 21, Mr. Ferguson spent a decade in and out of mental hospitals. Though the State’s own psychiatrists recommended that Mr. Ferguson remain hospitalized because he was dangerously mentally ill, he was discharged. Less than two years later, he stood trial for multiple murders. The juries that recommended death sentences never heard any evidence of Mr. Ferguson’s mental illness, despite that he has been diagnosed with psychosis and schizophrenia more than 40 times spanning 40 years of his life.
Governor Scott initially signed a warrant for Mr. Ferguson’s execution in September 2012. That execution was stayed after the Eleventh Circuit issued an eleventh-hour stay to consider Mr. Ferguson’s competency. The Eleventh Circuit ultimately ruled on May 21, 2013 that the execution could proceed.
The American Bar Association most recent Project Press posts, "Eleventh Circuit Rejects Appeal for John Ferguson," by Susanna Bagdasarova. Here's the beginning of this detailed report:
In May 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected an appeal by John Errol Ferguson, a Florida prisoner who has been on death row for more than three decades. Mr. Ferguson, a prisoner with a 40-year history of mental illness and a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, was scheduled to be executed in October of 2012. His execution was halted at the last minute when the Eleventh Circuit granted a stay to allow time for Mr. Ferguson, represented by a team of volunteer attorneys from Hogan Lovells, to pursue an appeal.
Hogan Lovells argued that executing Mr. Ferguson would be unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Panetti v. Quarterman, which established that no person should be executed if he lacks a “rational understanding” of the reasons for and consequences of his punishment. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit considered whether the Florida Supreme Court correctly applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent when it evaluated Mr. Ferguson’s claims under the older and more permissive Ford standard of competence, which requires only that the prisoner have a “factual awareness” of his execution and the reason for it.
"Florida Governor Rick Scott’s Solution for Schizophrenics? Execute Them," is the title of Ted Corless' News Munchies post.
My voice used to bounce off the hallowed halls of a century’s old high school where one of the key issues our prized debate team examined was the death penalty. If you study any of my previous blog posts or listen to News Munchies podcasts on capital punishment, my objective was to distill that issue to its most fundamental premise by identifying the various battle points. I sought to examine the legal, practical, and ethical boundaries for the state-sponsored killing of American citizens and I came up with the following: the death penalty serves one purpose, e.g., to remove “pests” in the same way exterminators kill ants, roaches, and other nuisances we find on our linoleum floors.
Looking at capital punishment through that lens, I cannot support the execution of a schizophrenic whose diagnosis predated his crimes. The Florida Supreme Court found, “Mr. [John Errol] Ferguson undoubtedly suffers from mental illness which is documented from the time prior to the murders committed…” In 1977, John Errol Ferguson was convicted of killing eight people in South Florida in two separate incidents. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that although Ferguson suffers from mental illness, he has a rational understanding of what he did. Really? Ferguson identifies himself as the “Prince of God” and states that after his death he will ascend to God’s right hand and defend the United States against a communist plot. One commentator noted that this belief has an eerily close proximity to mainstream Christian beliefs.
Earlier coverage of John Ferguson's case begins with news of the setting of a new execution date.