That's the title of an editorial in today's New York Times on the Florida case of John Ferguson.
Once again, a state is attempting to put to death a man who is clearly ineligible for execution under the Constitution. Once again, state and federal courts are ignoring uncontested facts by hiding behind the draperies of legal procedure. And once again we are forced to wonder why the Supreme Court is so reluctant to step in when a man’s life is at stake.
John Errol Ferguson is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Monday in Florida. Mr. Ferguson, who brutally murdered eight people in 1977 and 1978, has sat on Florida’s death row for 34 years. Doctors long ago gave him a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He believes, among other things, that he is the “Prince of God” and that he is being executed because he “can control the sun.”
The Florida Supreme Court found that he was competent to die, but only by applying a test for mental illness that the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected. A federal appeals court upheld the sentence, relying largely on a federal law that requires a significant degree of deference to state court rulings. Apparently it wasn’t even enough that one of the federal court’s judges found the test Florida applied to be “patently incorrect.”
"Miami mass killer John Ferguson to be executed Monday," is the Miami Herald report by David Ovalle.
Monday’s execution date comes 10 months after Ferguson, 65, was originally slated to die by lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke.
His lawyers, who say Ferguson is too mentally ill to fully understand why he is being put to death, successfully earned a stay as the courts explored whether his execution constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment.
Ferguson’s defense team has pointed to Ferguson’s longtime diagnoses as a paranoid schizophrenic and that he believes he is the “Prince of God” to be seated at the “right-hand” of God after his death.
After months of legal wrangling, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in May rejected his appeal, upholding a trial judge’s ruling that Ferguson was competent to be executed.
“That most people would characterize Ferguson’s Prince-of-God belief, in the vernacular, as ‘crazy’ does not mean that someone who holds that belief is not competent to be executed,” according to the federal appeals court’s 65-page opinion.
Ferguson’s lawyers are again appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. The American Bar Association and The National Alliance on Mental Illness have filed briefs asking the nation’s high court to stop Monday’s execution.
If his execution goes through, Ferguson would be the fifth Florida Death Row inmate to be executed since December.
"Lawyer: John Errol Ferguson is ill, shouldn't be executed," is AP coverage, via WTSP-TV.
John Errol Ferguson is set for execution at the Florida State Prison on Monday.
Lawyer Christopher Handman says at least nine state psychiatrists have ruled over the years that Ferguson is mentally ill. Most of those evaluations came when Ferguson was in a state mental hospital in the 1970s.
The 65-year-old Ferguson was convicted of killing eight people in South Florida in two separate incidents.
The Crime Report posts, "The Ferguson Case: When the Law Hasn’t Kept Up With Science," by Ron Honberg of NAMI.
If the State of Florida has its way, John Ferguson, who has been on death row for 34 years, will be executed today at 6 p.m.
If the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, he won’t.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and three state mental health organizations have filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case, arguing that the Florida Supreme Court violated constitutional principles in upholding Ferguson’s death sentence.
Ferguson has long lived with paranoid schizophrenia, a mental illness often marked by psychosis, involving hallucinations and delusions. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Panetti v. Quarterman that an individual must have a rational understanding of why he is being put to death and the finality of the death penalty.
However, the Florida Supreme Court failed to honor that rule under the Eighth Amendment—instead applying a standard of mere factual awareness.
Earlier coverage of John Ferguson's case begins at the link.
Related posts are in the competency and mental illness category indexes. 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.