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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Execution Stayed for Schizophrenic Murderer

(CN) - The 11th Circuit has given at least two more weeks of life to a schizophrenic mass murderer in Florida who says the state's insanity standard is flawed.

John Ferguson had been scheduled to be put to death Tuesday at 6 p.m. in connection to eight total counts of first-degree murder for which he was convicted in two trials.

Though the 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court refused to grant Ferguson relief last week, the tide seemed to turn when U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley granted the stay Monday.

The 11th Circuit quickly vacated the order, leading Ferguson's attorney Daniel Cervantes to apply for another emergency stay.

He says Florida thinks Ferguson is sane enough to be executed because its standard requires mere "awareness" by the inmate that he will be executed.

But this standard allegedly conflicts with the Supreme Court's precedent, reached in 2007 with Panetti v. Quarterman, that the inmate must have a "rational understanding" of why he is set to be executed.

Cervantes says Ferguson can hardly be said to "understand" his situation since he is schizophrenic, thinks he is the "Prince of God," and that he cannot be killed.

Pursuant to the 1986 decision Ford v. Wainwright, death row inmates who have made a "substantial threshold showing of insanity" are entitled to a competency hearing to be executed, the lawyer says.

On Tuesday, Hurley denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus but granted a certificate of appealability on two issues:

"A. Whether the decision of the Florida Supreme Court involved an unreasonable application of the Untied States Supreme Court's decision in Ford and Panetti.

"B. Whether the Florida Supreme Court's affirmance of the state trial court was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding, viz, that (a) the petitioner has a documented history of paranoid schizophrenia; (b) he is not malingering, and (c) he has a fixed grandiose delusion that he is the 'Prince of God.'"

The 11th Circuit in turn granted the stay and set a briefing schedule to conclude with Ferguson's reply brief on Nov. 6.

The Supreme Court meanwhile rejected three separate applications from Ferguson to stay the execution. It also rejected an application from Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker to vacate the emergency stay. All four orders note that the applications were presented to Justice Clarence Thomas. Chief Justice John Roberts did not participate in the consideration or decision of any of the applications.

Ferguson, 64, has been on death row in Florida for 34 years related to six murders he committed in Carol City, Fla., in July 1977, and two murders he committed in Hialeah, Fla., in January 1978.

In Carol City, Ferguson had posed as a Florida Power and Light employee to enter the home of Margaret Wooden. While searching for guns and money with two accomplices, Ferguson tied up Wooden and seven of her friends who interrupted them. The men put Wooden and her boyfriend in the bedroom. She said she heard shots fired in the living room where the six others were held, and then the men shot her and her boyfriend, who died as a result.

Wooden escaped and got help. The police arrived to find six dead bodies, all bound and shot in the back of the head. Another of the victims, Johnnie Hall, survived.

When police caught up with Ferguson in April 1978, he also confessed to the January 1978 murders of a pair of 17-year-olds whose bodies were found in a wooded area after they had left a Youth-for-Christ meeting in Hialeah, Fla.

Brian Glenfeld had been shot in the head, chest and arm. Belinda Worley was found several hundred yards away, naked and shot in the back of the head. An autopsy revealed that she had been raped.

The assailant had also robbed both victims of cash and jewelry.

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