A federal appeals court Tuesday rejected an appeal by Miami killer John Errol Ferguson, who was been on Death Row for more than three decades for convictions in eight murders.
Ferguson was originally slated to die by lethal injection in October but was issued a last-minute stay as defense lawyers insisted the schizophrenic’s execution was “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The court’s Tuesday ruling paves the way for a possible new execution date. Florida Gov. Rick Scott would have to sign a new death warrant.
“It’s under review,” Scott spokesman Frank Collins said.
Ferguson was convicted of the July 1977 murders of six in Carol City during a home-invasion robbery. At the time, it was the worst mass murder in Miami-Dade history.
Ferguson, now 65, also was convicted separately of murdering Belinda Worley, a 17-year-old Hialeah High 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 was a suspect, but never charged, with the robbery and killing of an elderly couple at a Miami motel.
Ferguson’s lawyers have said the man believes he is the “Prince of God” and has no understanding of why he is being executed.
In October, a Bradford trial court judge ruled that while Ferguson has a history of schizophrenia, he exists trouble free in prison and “there is no evidence that he does not understand” why he is to be executed.
The judge also noted that while Ferguson claims he is the “Prince of God” and will be seated at the “right-hand” of God after his death, his beliefs are not “significantly different than beliefs other Christians may hold.”
The Florida Supreme Court upheld the judge’s decision to reject the appeal. On Monday, the Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower courts’ rulings.
“That most people would characterize Ferguson’s Prince-of-God belief, in the vernacular, as ‘crazy’ does not mean that someone who holds that belief is not competent to be executed,” according to the federal appeals court’s 65-page opinion.
One of Ferguson’s lawyers, Christopher Handman, said he is disappointed that the federal judges deferred to the Florida Supreme Court, which “is not entitled to ignore the law of the land.”
“Established Supreme Court precedent holds that executing someone like Mr. Ferguson—who the Florida state courts all agreed was a 65-year-old paranoid schizophrenic with a documented 50-year history of profound mental illness—would be unconstitutional because he lacks any rational understanding of the reason for his execution or its effect,” Handman said.
Ferguson’s defense team can now ask the 11th Circuit to re-consider the case, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.