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Mass Murderer Loses 11th Hour Stay of Execution

(CN) - A schizophrenic man on death row who thinks he is the "Prince of God" and cannot be killed will be executed Tuesday after the 11th Circuit lifted an emergency stay.

John Ferguson faces the death penalty on eight total counts of first-degree murder for which he was convicted in two trials. The first trial concerned murders that took place in Carol City, Fla., in July 1977. The second trial involved January 1978 murders in Hialeah, Fla.

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.

Ferguson, 64, has been on death row in Florida for 34 years. A host of doctors have diagnosed him as insane, but he has found little relief in the courts.

In a 2009 ruling, the 11th Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief while noting a series of claims that Ferguson said his attorneys had failed to consider at trial: "that he was raised in extreme poverty and had no running water or electricity at times; that he had an alcoholic father who died when Ferguson was thirteen years old, that he had to deal with his mother's abusive boyfriends; and that, at age twenty-one, he was shot four times and almost killed by a police officer. He also asserts that he repeatedly was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was placed in multiple mental hospitals during the late 1960s and early 1970s, was twice found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was examined by multiple doctors in the years preceding the Carol City and Hialeah murders, all of whom diagnosed him as schizophrenic, psychotic, or hallucinating."

Both the 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court refused to grant Ferguson an emergency stay this past Thursday.

On Friday, Ferguson then filed an emergency motion with the Southern District of Florida to stay the execution scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

"The state courts expressly found that Mr. Ferguson currently suffers from paranoid schizophrenia - as he has for nearly 50 years - and experiences profound delusions, including that he is imbued with divine powers as the Prince of God," according to the motion authored by Hogan Lovells attorney Daniel Cervantes. "And for good reason: The evidence before the state courts demonstrated that Ferguson thinks, among other peculiar things, that: he is the Prince of God; he cannot be killed; God speaks to him through his 'inner ears' that sit inside his brain; his current incarceration is preparing him for his sole ascension to the right hand of God; 'like Jesus,' his body will not remain in the grave after the execution but rather will return to earth; his conviction is part of a communist plot; and his destiny is to return to earth to play a divine role in purifying the earth."

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

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

There was a glimmer of hope for Ferguson on Monday when U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley granted the stay.

But the 11th Circuit quickly extinguished that stay the same afternoon after Florida's secretary of state filed an emergency order to vacate the order.

"We agree with the Secretary that the District Court abused its discretion," according to the unsigned opinion.

Hurley's emphasis on guaranteeing a "fair hearing" for Ferguson did "not reflect the correct legal standard," the judges added.

They said that several psychiatrists and courts have found Ferguson competent to be executed, and that Florida correctly applied the law.

"The Florida Supreme Court explained that the standard is 'whether there is competent, substantial evidence to support the trial court's determination that Ferguson's mental illness does not interfere with his rational understanding of the fact of his pending execution,'" the decision states. "And the court affirmed the finding that Ferguson has this rational understanding. Ferguson fails to explain how the Florida Supreme Court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law when it found that Ferguson is competent to be executed."

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