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Death Penalty

New Stay Granted for Inmate Claiming ‘Grandiose Delusion’ Bars His Execution

Posted Oct 24, 2012 7:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court granted a temporary stay of execution on Tuesday for a Florida inmate who believes he is the “prince of God."

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to vacate the stay delaying the execution of John Errol Ferguson by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, report SCOTUSblog and the Huffington Post. Ferguson is on death row for the murders of eight people in the 1970s. The high court acted after “a slew of conflicting court rulings,” the Huffington Post wrote.

Ferguson’s lawyers contend the inmate lacks the “rational understanding” required for execution. He had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

ABA President Laurel Bellows had called for a stay. "The American Bar Association is alarmed that Florida is poised to execute John Ferguson, a man diagnosed as severely mentally ill for more than 40 years, before the constitutionality of his execution is fully evaluated," Bellows said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The 11th Circuit order (PDF) granting the stay on Tuesday called for briefs on two issues: whether the Florida Supreme Court correctly applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent on competence for execution, and whether the Florida Supreme Court made an unreasonable determination in light of evidence that Ferguson has a history of paranoid schizophrenia and “has a fixed grandiose delusion that he is the 'prince of God.' "

The 11th Circuit order said court rules require it to grant the stay pending consideration of the merits. It acted after a federal district judge granted a certificate of appealability on mental health issues.

A day earlier, the 11th Circuit had vacated a federal judge’s stay in a 2-1 decision. On Tuesday, before the stay was granted, both the Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit had rejected emergency appeals, the Huffington Post says.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office asserts in court papers that the late stay "makes a mockery of the state's compelling interest in finality," according to the Huffington Post account.

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