Of course, this being a civilized nation, we dont execute anyone who doesnt know hes about to be zapped from existence. But the courts have decided that somewhere in that muddled and messianic mind of John Errol Ferguson, hes aware, enough anyway, of what awaits him.
On Friday, a judge in Bradford County rejected a desperate appeal to stop the execution, based on the contention that the 64-year-old Fergusons delusions impacted his ability to understand the meaning and purpose of the punishment . . . whether he had a rational understanding of it.
It wasnt that Circuit Judge David Glant doubted Fergusons history of acute mental illnesses. He wrote that Fergusons documented history of paranoid schizophrenia was credible and compelling. The judge wrote that it is inconceivable that Ferguson would have received all those years of psychotropic medications and clinical treatment were he not a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Nor did he rule that Ferguson was malingering, faking his craziness to avoid execution. He said nothing in the evidence leads this Court to believe that Fergusons Prince of God delusion is anything but a genuine belief.
None of that apparently matters, the judge decided. Not under Florida law. Regardless of his long history of mental illness, there is no evidence that he does not understand what is taking place and why it is taking place. Fergusons Prince of God delusion, as well as his religious beliefs in general, shows a man who has a remarkably clear and relatively normal Christian belief, albeit a grandiose one.
Notions of normal Christian belief must be slightly different up there in Bradford County. Either that or when the convict before the court has eight murders on his rap sheet, a judge will accept even the most meager excuse to dispatch him to oblivion. Yet, Judge Glant didnt really need to stray outside the parameters of the law, which holds such a narrow definition of insanity that a history of outrageous craziness hardly matters. In our view there shouldnt be that much light between common sense and the law, said Fergusons lawyer, Chris Handman, who has been working on this case, pro bono, for five years. His Washington, D.C. law firm, Hogan Lovells, has been handling Fergusons appeals for 25 years.
Handman offered the court medical records going back 47 years with at least 40 different diagnoses of delusional or schizophrenic behavior or outright insanity. But they werent enough. Not if the judge can find that Ferguson has some notion of what awaits him in the execution chamber.
Handman argues that theres a difference between a factual awareness by Ferguson that hes about to be put to death and a rational appreciation of the death penalty. But he has yet to find a court willing to acknowledge that difference. Hell try the Florida Supreme Court this week. But time is running out.
Not that the crimes of John Errol Ferguson were anything but heinous. But retribution, come Thursday, will require agents of our supposedly civil society to kill someone whose documented history of acute mental illness goes back to 1965. Thats the self-proclaimed Prince of God were strapping to the gurney.