STARKE -- A federal appeals court granted a last-minute request Tuesday to block the scheduled execution of John Errol Ferguson, convicted of killing eight people in South Florida in the 1970s.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the 64-year-old Ferguson’s 6 p.m. execution by lethal injection after his attorneys argued he should not be executed because he suffers from severe mental illness.
Florida officials immediately asked the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the stay. The Supreme Court, which earlier Tuesday rejected Ferguson’s emergency appeal, did not immediately rule on the state’s motion. The appeals court set a schedule for motions that, if it stands, would likely delay the execution at least until the first week of November.
Earlier in the day, Ferguson, who has been on Florida’s death row for 34 years, ate his last meal: a “big” chicken country fried sandwich and sweet tea.
Ferguson, convicted of eight murders in the late 1970s in Hialeah and Carol City, originally was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. at the Florida State Prison.
No family visited him and he declined to issue any last public statements. He met with a prison chaplain, according to a corrections spokeswoman.
Preparations for his execution came after a federal appeals court late Monday lifted a district judge’s stay of the execution. His deadline came and went Tuesday. Hours later, the appeals court blocked the action.
Over recent days, federal judges in Florida, Georgia and Washington have wrestled with his appeals over the issue of whether he is severely mentally ill.
“A man who thinks he is the immortal Prince of God and who believes he is incarcerated because of a Communist plot quite clearly has no rational understanding of the effect of his looming execution and the reason for it,” said his lawyer, Christopher Handman, in a statement.
Ferguson has been on Death Row for more than three decades after being convicted of the July 1977 murders of six people in Carol City during a home-invasion robbery. At the time, it was the worst mass murder in Dade history.
He also was convicted separately of murdering Belinda Worley, a 17-year-old Hialeah High School senior, and Brian Glenfeldt, 17, in January 1978. He also was convicted of attempted murder in the robbery of another couple at a lover’s lane.
He has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic who believes he is the “Prince of God,” his lawyers say. The execution of a severely mentally ill man amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment,” his lawyers say.
He was originally scheduled to be executed Oct. 16, but a flurry of motions were filed and his execution was ultimately delayed late Tuesday.
Michael Worley, Belinda’s brother and only surviving relative, told The Miami Herald this month that he was upset over years of delays.
“Outrageous is the fact that for 34 years our tax dollars have been keeping Ferguson alive. Free food, medical care and the ability to communicate with his loved ones and lawyers,” he said. “My sister was brutally killed at the age of 17. Her murder shattered our entire family. Life was never the same.”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.