After a life of bloodshed on the streets of Miami-Dade, then 35 years lingering on Death Row, Miami murderer John Errol Ferguson’s eyes darted to the execution supervisor looming over him.
“I just want everyone to know that I am the Prince of God and I will rise again,” Ferguson mumbled.
Then, the jowly and grayed 65-year-old rustled his feet underneath the white sheet of the gurney, lifted his head and peered intently at the witness window of the death chamber. At 6:01 p.m. Monday, the lethal drugs pumped through his veins, his head rested down, his mouth gasped and life slowly and quietly slipped away.
Ferguson, a killer of eight and at one time responsible for the largest mass slaughter in Miami-Dade history, was pronounced dead 6:17 p.m.
His execution caps a legacy of violence dating back to 1977, as well as a high-profile legal fight over whether Ferguson’s longtime schizophrenia and stated belief that he is the “Prince of God” made his execution a cruel and unusual punishment.
Michael Worley, whose 17-year-old sister Belinda Worley was raped and shot to death in 1978, said he believed Ferguson’s insanity was “fabricated and coached” even until the end.
“Thank goodness justice finally prevailed and he was finally executed,” Worley told the Miami Herald on Monday night. “I think he got off easy compared to what he did to the victims.”
Ferguson’s lawyers, who witnessed Monday’s execution, had fought for years to spare Ferguson, saying the man had a 40-year history of mental illness dating back to well before the murders.
Lawyer Christopher Handman criticized the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday afternoon denied a last-minute appeal to stay the execution.
“He has a fixed delusion that he is the ‘Prince of God’ who cannot be killed and will rise up after his execution to fight alongside Jesus and save America from a communist plot,” Handman said. “He has no rational understanding of the reason for his execution or the effect the death penalty will have upon him.”
Ferguson was the fifth Florida Death Row inmate to be executed since December.
In May, Gov. Rick Scott also signed a death warrant for Miami killer Marshall Lee Gore, but his execution has twice been stayed as his lawyers seek to halt it based on claims he, too, is mentally ill and should not executed. In recent months, Scott has accelerated the pace of death warrants.
Ferguson was one of the state’s longest serving Death Row inmates.
Prosecutors convicted Ferguson of the July 1977 shotgun murders of six people in Carol City during a home-invasion robbery. At the time, it was considered the worst mass murder in Miami-Dade history.
The dead: Livingstone Stocker, 33; Michael Miller, 24; Henry Clayton, 35; John Holmes, 26; Gilbert Williams, 37, and Charles Cesar Stinson, 35. Two survived: Johnnie Hall, 45, and Margaret Wooden, 24.
Ferguson was also convicted separately of murdering Worley and Glenfeldt, both 17-year-old Hialeah High students, in January 1978. The two had gone for ice cream, then parked at a field known as a popular lover’s lane.
Police said Ferguson tried robbing the couple, shooting Glenfeldt behind the wheel of his mother’s 1974 Pontiac LeMans, while Worley’s body was discovered a quarter-mile away; she had been raped and shot.
Michael Worley, who was 13 when his sister was killed, choked up when remembering her Monday night: “She was a good girl. I looked up to her. She had a lot of plans for life and she didn’t get a chance to see them through. He took it away from her.” Worley, who now lives in Broward County, did not attended the execution of his sister’s killer.
Ferguson was also convicted of attempted murder in the robbery of another couple at a lover’s lane. And he was a suspect, but never charged, with the robbery and killing of an elderly couple at a Miami motel.
Monday’s execution date came 10 months after Ferguson was originally slated to die by lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke.
After months of legal wrangling, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in May rejected his appeal, upholding a trial judge’s ruling that Ferguson was competent to be executed.
“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.
His lawyers insisted that the state courts and the federal appeals court applied the wrong legal standard, set by the U.S. Supreme Court years ago, in determining Ferguson’s competency.
The federal appeals court’s ruling set the stage for Monday’s new execution date.
Just hours before he was killed, Ferguson dined on standard inmate fare: a meat patty with white bread, steamed tomatoes, potato salad, diced carrots and iced tea.
The convicted killer also met with two of his attorneys, Handman and Patricia Brannon, as well as a spiritual advisor: Sister Marina Aranzabal, according to a corrections spokeswoman.
Several unidentified relatives of the dead sat in the front-row of the death chamber, which has a one-way window facing Ferguson.
In the stuffy and eerie silence, the relatives sat stone-faced until a mocha-colored curtain rose to reveal Ferguson, strapped into the gurney, IVs discretely inserted into veins on each arm.
They sat stone faced but clearly apprehensive. One woman clasped her hands, prayer-like, resting them just below her nose as she watched. Next to her, a man cupped his mouth and chin, tapping his fingers on his lips.
As the minutes ticked away, the drugs took effect.
At 6:17 p.m., a doctor walked in, slid Ferguson’s eyelids up with his fingers and shined a flashlight into his pupils. No response. A stethoscope confirmed: Ferguson was dead.