Circuit Judge David Glant ruled on Friday that John Ferguson, a South Florida man convicted of murder, is fit to be executed despite his history of mental illness. Ferguson, 64, who says he is the "Prince of God" was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
The Daily Mail reports that Ferguson has been on death row for 34 years. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 1978 after he was found guilty of murder of eight people. The Guardian reports that in July 1977, Ferguson, in the company of two other men, broke into a house in Carol City and shot six men dead. A year after, he shot two teenagers in Hialeah.
After his conviction and sentence, his attorneys have sought to overturn the death sentence by pointing to the fact that he had previously been diagnosed of paranoid schizophrenia. His lawyers argued that his execution would be "cruel and unusual punishment" on the ground of a US Supreme Court ruling that execution of convicts that are mentally retarded or have mental illness is a violation of their constitutional rights.
According to The Guardian, in the Supreme Court ruling that arose in Florida, the judge said: "Whether the aim is to protect the condemned from fear and pain without comfort of understanding, or to protect the dignity of society itself from the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance, the restriction finds enforcement in the eighth amendment."
Miami Herald reports that his defense attorneys say Ferguson was the son of an abusive alcoholic father. His mother abandoned him at age 11. He was shot in the head at the age of 21, and after returning from hospital, "he began to show serious mental instability, irrational thinking, unexplainable hostility and grossly impaired intelligence,” according to his lawyers.
The Guardian reports that the earliest record of Ferguson's mental Heath problem goes back to 1965 when he reportedly had visual hallucinations. In the 1970s, he was hospitalized for psychosis and schizophrenia. A doctor wrote in 1975 that Ferguson had "a long-standing, severe illness which will most likely require long-term in-patient hospitalization. This man is dangerous and cannot be released under any circumstances."
He was released in spite of the doctor's recommendation. He committed the first of his murders two years after his release.
Ben Lewis, one of Ferguson's defense lawyers, said: "This is a guy with long-standing mental health issues that stretch over four decades, with 30 different doctors having diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic, including Florida state and court-appointed doctors. And yet he is sane enough to be executed?"
The Guardian reports Ferguson has experienced hallucinations for several years. His dead father talks to him and on one occasion, he reported cockroaches entered his brain through his ears. He believes he is the "Prince of God," and that he will be resurrected to sit for eternity at God's right hand.
However, on Friday, Circuit Judge David Glant upheld Florida Governor Rick Scott's decision that the execution should proceed. He said that despite Ferguson's history of mental illness "there is no evidence that he does not understand" he is will be executed because of his crimes. The Daily Mail reports that Glant also said that Ferguson's belief that he is the "Prince of God" and that he will have a place at the "right hand" of God when he dies are not "significantly different than beliefs other Christians may hold."
According to The Guardian, the judge, in his concluding remarks, agreed with Ferguson's lawyers that he is a paranoid schizophrenic and that he truly believes he is the "Prince of God." The judge also accepted that Ferguson has a long history of mental illness and said there is no evidence to support the prosecution's claim that Ferguson has been pretending to be mentally ill. But in spite of his acknowledging Ferguson's long history of mental illness, the judge said: "There is no evidence that his mental illness interferes, in any way, with his 'rational understanding' of the fact of his pending execution and the reason for it."
The judge said that Ferguson's "grandiose delusion" that he is the "Prince of God" and that he would be like Jesus at his resurrection is "normal Christian belief." The judge wrote: "There is no evidence 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."
Ferguson's defense lawyer Christopher Handman, has appealed Judge Glant's decision to the Florida Supreme Court, the Daily Mail reports. An initial hearing may be held on Monday. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution scheduled for Thursday.
Handman told the Miami Herald: "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..."
Miami Herald reports Michael Worley, whose sister Belinda was killed by Ferguson, has protested the stay of execution, saying: "Our tax dollars have been keeping Ferguson alive. Free food, medical care and the ability to communicate with his loved ones and lawyers. My sister was brutally killed at the age of 17. Her murder shattered our entire family. Life was never the same."