Death Penalty

Federal Judge Stays Execution of Mass Murderer Who Thinks He Is Prince of God

Lawyers for a Florida inmate who believes he is the “prince of God” have won a hearing to determine whether he is competent to be executed.

U.S. District Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley of Miami granted a stay of execution on Saturday for John Errol Ferguson, who was convicted of murdering eight people in the 1970s, report the Associated Press and the Miami Herald. Ferguson is represented by lawyers from Hogan Lovells. Hurley will hear arguments on Friday.

Hurley ruled three days after the Florida Supreme Court found Ferguson is competent to be executed because he “understands what is taking place and why.” Ferguson’s lawyers argue the state must show the inmate has a “rational understanding” of the reason for, and the effect of, his execution. They say the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Panetti v. Quarterman set the higher standard.

According to the lawyers’ emergency motion, “The evidence before the state courts demonstrated that Ferguson thinks, among other peculiar things, that: He is the Prince of God; he cannot be killed; God speaks to him through his ‘inner ears’ that sit inside his brain; his current incarceration is preparing him for his sole ascension to the right hand of God; ‘like Jesus,’ his body will not remain in the grave after execution but rather will return to earth; his conviction is part of a communist plot; and his destiny is to return to earth to play a divine role in purifying the earth.”

ABA President Laurel Bellows wrote a letter to the editor questioning an earlier ruling against Ferguson. “Our great American system of justice is demeaned when we execute the profoundly mentally ill,” she wrote to the Tallahassee Democrat.

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