Florida Executes Mentally Ill Multiple Murderer John Errol Ferguson Despite Constitutional Prohibition
Florida executed a paranoid schizophrenic multiple murderer on Monday, violating the constitution’s ban on putting mentally ill individuals to death.
The Miami Herald reports 65-year-old John Errol Ferguson was pronounced dead at 6:17 pm Monday, 16 minutes after being administered a lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke.
Ferguson was part of a group that killed six people during a 1977 Carol City home invasion robbery. It was the worst mass murder in Miami-Dade history at the time. The following year, Ferguson murdered a teen couple from Hialeah, raping the girl before killing her. He is also suspected of, but was never charged with, murdering an elderly couple at a Miami motel.
Prior to the Carol City murders, Ferguson had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, with evidence of active psychosis. Multiple medical examinations concluded that he was grossly psychotic, insane and incompetent. The Guardian reports Ferguson was first diagnosed as having visual hallucinations by a Florida prison psychologist in 1965. Ferguson believed he was the ‘immortal prince of God,’ endowed with superhuman powers which included the ability to control the sun. He remained a deeply disturbed individual right up until the end of his life.
“I just want everyone to know that I am the prince of God and I will rise again,” Ferguson declared just before his execution.
Ben Lewis, Ferguson’s attorney, had filed an 11th hour petition with the US Supreme Court last week describing the extent of his mental illness. In 2007, the Court ruled in Panetti v. Quarterman that individuals condemned to death may not be executed if they do not have a “rational understanding” of the reason why they are to be killed.
Ferguson believed he was to be executed because there was a conspiracy to stop him from using his superpowers, and that his execution was a plot by the state of Florida to thwart his ascension as ‘prince of God.’
The state of Florida found that Ferguson was eligible for execution because his belief in his immortality was shared by millions of Christians. Upon appeal, a federal court concurred with Florida, although a dissenting judge said the application of the law in the case was “patently wrong.”
“Constitutional law is clear on this point: killing the severely mentally ill violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment,” ACLU of Florida spokesman Baylor Johnson told MSNBC. “And John Ferguson’s history makes it clear that he [was] severely mentally ill.”
Lawyer Christopher Handman said the Supreme Court should have issued a last-minute stay of execution.
“[Ferguson] 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 told the Herald. “He has no rational understanding of the reason for his execution or the effect the death penalty will have on him.”
But relatives of Ferguson’s victims weren’t buying it.
Michael Worley, whose 17-year-old sister Belinda Worley was killed after being raped by Ferguson in 1978, expressed satisfaction at Ferguson’s killing.
“Thank goodness justice finally prevailed and he was finally executed,” Worley told the Herald. “I think he got off easy compared to what he did to the victims.” Worley added he did not believe Ferguson, whose insanity he said was “fabricated and coached,” was really mentally ill.
Although banned under the constitutional prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” multiple US states still execute the mentally ill and mentally disabled. Most recently, Texas executed Marvin Wilson in August 2012. Wilson’s IQ was determined to be 61, nine points below the threshold of mental retardation.
Tagged Belinda Worley, capital punishment, death penalty, eighth amendment, Florida executions, John Errol Ferguson, John Ferguson execution, mentally ill executions, Panetti v. Quarterman, unconstitutional execution