Execution of schizophrenic man on hold after 35 years on death row

A schizophrenic Florida man ate what he thought would be his last meal Tuesday night.

But in a bizarre turn of events, his execution was delayed by a federal appeals court. After a series of conflicting rulings, it appears that John Errol Ferguson will be put to death at some time during the first week of November.

History of psychosis and killing

Ferguson has spent the last 35 years on death row after being convicted of shooting and killing eight people in South Florida in 1977, as well as killing a teenage couple in 1978. In the years prior to the killings, Ferguson was evaluated by psychiatrists during a time he was either incarcerated or living in a mental facility, where he was diagnosed as being psychotic and schizophrenic. Despite this, he was released in 1976 and committed the 10 killings a year later.

At least three psychiatrists have evaluated Ferguson's mental state, each confirming that he suffers from schizophrenia. His illness is typical of the condition--he suffers from paranoid delusions and believes he is the "Prince of God," on a mission to battle communists.

The mental competence argument

But his lawyer, Christopher Handman, says that Ferguson is not mentally "competent" to be executed:

"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."

Handman's argument is based on the Eight Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that criminal defendants are not eligible for the death penalty if they do not understand the reason for their execution.

However, Bradford County Eighth Judicial Circuit Judge David Glant found that Ferguson's delusions, albeit genuine, were not severe enough to excuse him from the death penalty:

“There is no evidence in the record that Ferguson’s belief as to his role in the world and what may happen to him in the afterlife is so significantly different from beliefs other Christians may hold so as to consider it a sign of insanity,” said Glant.

Further arguments for the case are scheduled for this coming Friday.

Source: TIME
Source: World Socialist Web Site

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