A federal court on Saturday put the execution of John Ferguson on hold and scheduled arguments for Friday on whether he is, as he contends, insane.
Ferguson, convicted of killing eight people in a 1970s murder spree, had been scheduled to be put to death Tuesday.
Saturday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley in Miami came just three days after the state Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling that Ferguson was sane and eligible to be executed.
Ferguson’s lawyers said that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and labors under the delusion that he is the “Prince of God.”
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“We are pleased that Judge Hurley has stayed the execution of Mr. Ferguson and has concluded that the important constitutional issues raised by Mr. Ferguson’s habeas petition merit full consideration,” Ferguson’s attorney, Chris Handman, said in a news release.
“In order for the state to execute him, Mr. Ferguson must have a rational understanding of the reason for, and effect of, his execution. 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.”
The court scheduled three hours of oral arguments in the case for Friday.
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 Dade history.
Ferguson, now 64, also was convicted separately of murdering Belinda Worley, a 17-year-old Hialeah High School senior, and Brian Glenfeldt, 17, in January 1978.
Ferguson was also convicted of attempted murder in the robbery of another couple at a lover’s lane. He was a suspect, but never charged, with the brutal robbery-slaying of an elderly couple at a Miami motel.
Defense attorneys have maintained for decades that Ferguson is severely mentally ill and his execution would be “cruel and unusual punishment.”
He has been on death row since 1978.