Schizophrenic Man Set to Be Executed in Florida after 35 Years on Death Row

Decades of legal wrangling, psychoanalysis and petitioning has left a convicted murderer condemned to die, despite being determined to be mentally ill.

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AP / Florida Department of Corrections
AP / Florida Department of Corrections

John Errol Ferguson

A Florida man who has been on death row for 35 years is scheduled to die at 6pm Eastern Time after a federal appeals court lifted his stay of execution on Monday. The move comes just three days after the man, who is afflicted with schizophrenia, was given a reprieve by a U.S. District Judge based on his lawyers’ argument that he is not competent to be executed.

Barring any new action from the Florida Supreme Court, John Errol Ferguson, 64, will be put to death at Florida State Prison for killing six people in a 1977 Carol City, Fla., home invasion, and the murders of two teenagers in Hileah, Fla., in 1978, according to prison records. He was convicted in 1978 along with two accomplices, both of whom were executed in the 1980s.

(PHOTOS: Five Historically Infamous Executions: Justice Served or Grave Mistake?)

In the ten years after his conviction, at least three prison psychiatrists all examined Ferguson and determined that he suffered from schizophrenia. It was also determined that during an earlier period of either incarceration or living in a state mental facility, beginning in 1971, he was diagnosed as psychotic. According to a court briefing, during periods ranging from 1971 to 1988, he had been administered psychotropic medications for the treatment of his illness. Despite warnings from doctors who had demonstrated how sick he was, he was released from state custody in 1976 and committed the killings the next year.

Ferguson has described himself as the “Prince of God,” and saw himself on a mission to fight communists. He has had mental issues dating back to 1965, when he first reported having hallucinations. This began a long process of monitoring, diagnoses and treatment that stretched long past the murders he was convicted of committing. A series of physicians and psychologists intermittently determined as competent or incompetent for post-conviction proceedings. The process of analyzing him over the course of decades showed that he was severely mentally ill, and gave his attorneys a basis to argue that he should not be executed.

“It is undisputed that Mr. Ferguson is a paranoid schizophrenic,” his lawyer Christopher Handman said in a statement after the Florida Supreme Court determined that he was 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.”

(MORE: Dancing Around the Death Penalty)

The Florida Supreme Court and lower district court went through a volley of orders staying and lifting stays of execution through the month of October — most recently last Saturday, when U.S. District Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley said that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave a different definition of competency than the Florida Supreme Court justices were using and granted a stay.

But late Monday evening an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel of judges in Atlanta, voting 2-1, decided to lift the stay despite the granting of a hearing on Ferguson’s case scheduled for Friday. Handman is holding out hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will step in and has filed a petition for the judges to do so.

“We think there are substantial constitutional questions here that will merit the Supreme Court of the United States to honor the stay of execution,” he told CNN.

52 comments
Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Ya know being deliriously out of your mind should have some bearing on criminal law.

SavannahRose
SavannahRose

Of course he isn't competent to be executed. Humans are not fit to condemn our own kind to death, especially a man with this illness. But we're not him, maybe he'll be happier to finally be free. 

Wende Bradley Hernandez
Wende Bradley Hernandez

Was he lucid or in a paranoid state when he committed the crimes? Sucky reporting...

Ruby J Okoth
Ruby J Okoth

It is inhuman and degrading in two respects; first, death sentencing, and secondly keeping an inmate anticipating hangman's noose for 35 yrs

William SP
William SP

i hope his not schizophrenic...gosh what a word,,...in after life....

Rajesh Kanchan
Rajesh Kanchan

Executing a confirmed unsound minded guy won't serve any purpose. Real justice would have to treat his illness.

Paul Heyns
Paul Heyns

@ Andrew.. You don't know what your talking about!!! South Afica is a crime capital!! Only the death penalty will safe us!! Murder and rape are on the first 6 pages of our newspapers everyday!!! Go and rean News24.com and see for yourselves

Daphne Jones
Daphne Jones

How sad. Here is a schizophrenic paranoid man who has had problems since 1965. Wondering how the insanity plea is dismissed!? Possibly IF he was competent it would have been due to the availability of medication in prison...so sorry for all the lives lost surrounding this case but justice will not/has not been served.

Becky Hardy Dixon
Becky Hardy Dixon

Whether they were to put him in a mental hospital w/meds or life in prisonn...who would have to pay for him?

Brendan Barmmer
Brendan Barmmer

Capital Punishment is barbaric regardless of how heinous the crime. A Gollum sentencing for life should suffice accompanied by tiered corrections efforts.

ChristopherMarkowski
ChristopherMarkowski

Lets not pretend we're some sort of evolved creature, you're all a bunch of greedy animals in the end, when push comes to shove.

Sonja
Sonja

Our future children will look at us as we do at those who burn witches. We are still barbaric (some of us are)

Yoliswa Cele Luthuli
Yoliswa Cele Luthuli

Very strange to execute a mental ill person and then after 35 years of jail time served?. Even if you believe in the death penalty, 35years on death row defeats the purpose. .

Turin Gonzalez
Turin Gonzalez

35 yrs? that's not the death penalty, he should have been toast 30 yrs ago

Andrew Newton
Andrew Newton

This is a disgrace. The sooner the death penalty is abolished in every country, the better the world will be.

Susan Layser
Susan Layser

I don't believe in the death penalty, primarily for two reasons: firstly, if the person is later proven through evidence to be innocent there is no way to bring them back; and secondly, that life in prison is a far worse punishment than death. I had not heard about this for all the election coverage.

Andrew Symmons
Andrew Symmons

American laws are strange 35 years in prison only to be executed at the end of this time is more than harsh considering this individual is mentally unstable. he should have been given medical help for his condition. It's a good job we don't do the same in the UK, barbaric Americans. I could understand it if the man was sane.

David Houghton
David Houghton

Executing the mentally ill... I'm surprised it wasn't in Texas.

Dawnya Hiner
Dawnya Hiner

35 years isnt enough punishment ? that IS taking his life

Karien Sturmair
Karien Sturmair

Who ever executes this man is a murderer too. No man has the right to take the life of another!

Riette Breytenbach de Kock
Riette Breytenbach de Kock

Mary Williams and Mary Lulu: don't you think that murder is barbaric too? Come see in South Africa how people get murdered since the death penalty isn't law anymore. Maybe you'll feel different if you lived in a place where murders have more rights than law abiding citizens. Or if someone close to you got murdered.

Brandon Samies
Brandon Samies

You hippies are tards. Let him die. EYE FOR AN EYE

Alfred Wheeler
Alfred Wheeler

A better state and better laws are possible. We don't want it enough to make it happen...

patmullally
patmullally

@Glenna_lynch @timenewsfeed execution is a barbaric act of revenge.

wachhou
wachhou

@TIMENewsFeed no comment...

Joseph Crawley
Joseph Crawley

Should be placed in a mental hospital for the criminal insane

Jon Lester
Jon Lester

After 35 years, I think he has served his sentence, no matter what he did.

Lyle Ketchum
Lyle Ketchum

Na na naaa na na na naaa na hey hey hey good bye.

MartynWilson
MartynWilson

This is, quite simply, judicial murder. WTF are you thinking about, America? This is the 21st century.

Andrei Lucian
Andrei Lucian

oh, you americans, are so thirsty for blood. Well, at least some of you. And you wonder why people hates Usa!!

Simone Eaglechild
Simone Eaglechild

I will never ever believe in the death penalty. In the bible it says "thou shalt not kill"....may our creator have pity on all of them.

Sonja
Sonja

What should happen to the ones who take his life?, You said you don't deserve if you take another life !