MENTAL ILLNESS: At 11th Hour, Supreme Court Upholds Stay of Execution for Florida Inmate

On October 23, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a last-minute federal appeals court stay-of-execution for John Ferguson. Ferguson had been scheduled to be executed earlier that day, but his lawyers filed a series of motions arguing he was mentally incompetent. In September, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Ferguson’s death warrant for October 16, but allowed time for a mental competency examination. A series of stays and reversals shifted the date to October 18, then to October 23, or later. Mental health professionals have diagnosed Ferguson as paranoid schizophrenic with a long history of mental illness. Earlier, the ABA released a statement: “The American Bar Association is alarmed that Florida is poised to execute John Ferguson, a man diagnosed as severely mentally ill for more than 40 years, before the constitutionality of his execution is fully evaluated.” The Court of Appeals will review whether the Florida Supreme made an unreasonable application of the law or determination of the facts in denying Ferguson’s state appeal. Briefs must be filed by November 6. The U.S. Supreme Court had repeatedly denied prior requests for a stay.

Christopher Handman, Ferguson’s lawyer, said, “It is impossible to fathom that the state can constitutionally put to death a man who thinks he is the ‘Prince of God’ and who believes he has a destiny of being the right hand of God and returning to purify earth after the state tries to kill him.”

(M. Peltier, “Supreme Court upholds stay of execution for Florida man,” Chicago Tribune, October 24, 2012). See Mental Illness. Listen to DPIC’s podcast on Mental Illness.