The Atlantic posts, "On the Death of John Ferguson," by Andrew Cohen.
Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia excoriated his colleagues on the United States Supreme Court for not always saying what they mean. Today, with a man's life on the line, with lower courts in full-flowered rebellion, and with a clear and present opportunity to decisively affirm their own precedent, those same justices demonstrated that they don't always mean what they say. The result is yet another shocking example of the hollowness of constitutional doctrine in the Roberts Court era.
Today, the Supreme Court allowed Florida to execute a patently insane man named John Ferguson, a man with 40 years worth of paranoid delusions chronicled by government doctors, a man who considered himself the "Prince of God." This Court allowed the execution to proceed even thought it has for decades purported to forbid the execution of prisoners who are considered too ill, too mentally incompetent, to comprehend the nature of what is being done to them. Not a single justice dissented from the Court's decision to effectively abandon the core of its Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Not a single justice explained the retreat. Not one.
The New York Times Taking Note blog posted, "Florida to Execute a Paranoid Schizophrenic," by Jesse Wegman, shortly before the execution took place.
It is fair to ask for clarity in the law, but in the face of uncertainty a state should err on the side of not executing someone. If Mr. Ferguson’s execution has any positive effect, it will be to lead the Court to revisit its rulings on mental illness and the death penalty, and give states the clarity and guidance they need when deciding between life and death.
"Miami killer John Errol Ferguson executed," is by David Ovalle for the Miami Herald.
After a life of bloodshed on the streets of Miami-Dade, then 35 years lingering on Death Row, Miami murderer John Errol Ferguson’s eyes darted to the execution supervisor looming over him.
“I just want everyone to know that I am the Prince of God and I will rise again,” Ferguson mumbled.
Then, the jowly and grayed 65-year-old rustled his feet underneath the white sheet of the gurney, lifted his head and peered intently at the witness window of the death chamber. At 6:01 p.m. Monday, the lethal drugs pumped through his veins, his head rested down, his mouth gasped and life slowly and quietly slipped away.
Ferguson, a killer of eight and at one time responsible for the largest mass slaughter in Miami-Dade history, was pronounced dead 6:17 p.m.
"Convicted mass murderer executed in Florida," is Associated Press coverage filed by Tamara Lush.
The issue of Ferguson's mental stability was a current that ran through his life, and his execution came after months of court appeals. Ferguson's lawyers said their client had a long history of mental illness. The attorneys appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that Ferguson lacked "rational understanding" that he will be executed and that killing him would be "cruel and unusual punishment," violating the Eighth Amendment.
Christopher Handman, Ferguson's lead attorney, said his client's mental illness manifested itself long before the slayings. Ferguson's alcoholic father died when Ferguson was 13, and that's when he started experiencing hallucinations, family members told the attorney. Ferguson also experienced abuse by his mother's boyfriends, then was abandoned by his mom and raised by his sisters in a vermin-infested shack in Miami-Dade County.
When he was 21, he was shot in the head by a police officer in Miami. For several years in the 1970s, Ferguson was in a state mental hospital and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; he was twice found not guilty of crimes by reason of insanity. Handman said one doctor wrote that Ferguson should not be released because he was a danger to himself and to society.
But he was released and, months later, committed the Carol City murders.
Handman said Monday in a statement that he was disappointed the Supreme Court denied a stay.
"Mr. Ferguson is insane and incompetent for execution by any measure," Handman said. "He has a fixed delusion that he is the `Prince of God' who cannot be killed and will rise up after his execution to fight alongside Jesus and save America from a communist plot. He has no rational understanding of the reason for his execution or the effect the death penalty will have upon him."
The Gainesville Sun reports, "Man convicted of 8 murders executed," by Kristine Crane.
His final statement was: “I just want everyone to know that I am the prince of God, and I will rise again.” Then he added, “That's all.”
Ferguson has been repeating that conviction for many years. He began suffering hallucinations in 1965 and was placed in a state mental hospital in 1971, where four years later, court-appointed psychiatrists said that he was “dangerous to himself and others.”
Nonetheless, Ferguson was released from the hospital a year later, “for reasons that are still unclear,” said Ferguson's lawyer, Christopher Handman, of the Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, D.C.
A year later, in 1977, Ferguson committed the first of two crimes that put him on death row.
"Too mentally ill for death? Florida executes man who lost Supreme Court appeal," is by Warren Richey for the Christian Science Monitor.
Ferguson’s lawyer, Christopher Handman, said he was “gravely disappointed” that the high court had declined to hear the appeal. “Mr. Ferguson has been profoundly mentally ill for four decades…, but is now deemed suddenly and inexplicably cured,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Handman had argued that Ferguson’s case would offer the high court an opportunity to identify with greater precision the parameters judges are to use when deciding whether a condemned prisoner is mentally competent enough to face execution.
Because the death penalty is a form of state-authorized retribution for crime, it is essential that the condemned prisoner appreciate the significance of the punishment, legal experts say. Without that appreciation, the process would lack any retributive purpose and amount to a government killing without an accepted justification. That would violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, according to legal experts.
"Florida executes mass murderer who claimed mental illness," is by David Adams for Reuters, via U.S. News & World Report.
The Guardian posts, "Florida executes mentally ill man despite constitutional prohibition," by Ed Pilkington.
"Inmate with prince of God delusion is executed after asserting he will rise again," by Debra Cassens Weiss for ABA Journal.
Earlier coverage of John Ferguson's case begins at the link.