Florida Will Kill Severely Mentally Ill Man Unless Supreme Court Intervenes

UPDATE (8/6/2013): About an hour after the Supreme Court decided not to intercede, John Ferguson was executed by the state of Florida at 6:17 pm EST on August 5, 2013. 

Unless the United States Supreme Court intervenes in the next few days, Florida will execute John Ferguson on August 5, despite a well-documented history of his psychosis spanning over 40 years.

Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Ferguson believes that he is the "Prince of God" and that after his execution he will be reincarnated in his same body, help Jesus fight the Antichrist, save America from a communist plot, and rule the earth. He thinks his conviction is the result of a communist conspiracy. He is certain that the state seeks to execute him not for his crimes but to prevent him from ascending to sit at God's right hand.

After a traumatic brain injury at age 21, Ferguson spent a decade in and out of mental hospitals. Doctors recommended that he receive long-term hospitalization and treatment. They warned that he should remain hospitalized because he was dangerously mentally ill. Nevertheless, he was ultimately discharged. Within two years, Ferguson was facing trial for multiple murders.

Ferguson's trial attorneys never told his jurors about his mental illness. He has spent 35 years on Florida's death row, and not surprisingly, he continues to suffer from mental illness, including the same hallucinations and delusions that plagued him before his arrests.

Even the Florida Supreme Court agrees that Ferguson is severely mentally ill and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. But the court ruled that Ferguson's execution could proceed because they applied the wrong legal standard for the mental competency required to be executed. Then, favoring finality over well-established constitutional law, the federal Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit deferred to the Florida Supreme Court's ruling, even though a judge on the panel recognized that it had applied a "patently incorrect" legal standard.

Ferguson's attorneys have now filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to review his case. Constitutional law is unambiguous: killing the insane violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. A condemned prisoner must have a rational understanding of the reason for his execution and the effect of his execution before the state puts him to death. Ferguson has neither.

Despite the constitutional prohibition, states across the country continue to execute the mentally ill (such as Edwin Hart Turner, killed last year by the state of Mississippi). Florida will continue the trend on Monday, if the U.S. Supreme Court does not intervene.

Florida is one of the country's leaders in death sentences and executions. Ferguson's execution would be another grave injustice on the state's long list. The Supreme Court must step in before Florida executes a man who is severely mentally ill.

To learn more about mental illness and the death penalty, go here.

Learn more about abolishing the death penalty and other civil liberties issuesSign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (5)
Read the Terms of Use


If he has the right to be out in the community then he also is responsible for his actions just like I would be. You can not have it both ways. He did the crime now he needs to pay the price. Why not also find out who was responsible for letting him out. Robyn Murphy

Robert Emmett Zimmer

While I am categorically against the death penalty as a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment committed by the government, it is especially egregious when it is committed against the mentally ill.


Who says he has to be out in the community? Why can't he be in a hospital the way John HINKley was, and they let HIM out in the community 18 years after he tried to kill President Reagan and seriously wounded (for life) James Brady.
If they can do all that with someone who shot the president, I don't know why this is different.
And I'm usually FOR capital punishment. I knew a Capital Offenses Attorney and he said you can't even qualify for the death penalty unless extenuating circumstances were present. But mental illness was not one of them. It was not on the list of reasons he told us qualifies a person for consideration of capital punishment. He was decidedly specific about that.


According to a guy I once knew, who was a Capital Offenses Attorney, the Death Penalty only qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment when the extenuating circumstances of their crime AREN'T present.
But mental illness was not a determining factor for capital punishment. He made it decidedly clear what they determinants were: Killing multiple people the way James Holmes did; killing numbers of people over a long time span like Ted Bundy did; killing a child under 7 or someone over 65; dismembering the body or defiling the corpse.
Although I didn't ask him, I got the impression that if the suspect was mentally ill, he WASN'T a candidate for Capital Punishment.

Vicki B.

I was really sorry to hear that the Supreme Court decided not to intervene in this case, b/c I think it was an exception to the rule, so to speak.
I read all the way through the article and, although I ordinarily believe Capital Punishment ISN'T cruel and unusual, I think it was in this case.
And I don't understand what my taxes pay the Supreme Court to do. I feel angry that they didn't intervene in this situation.

Stay Informed