A few weeks after his execution date was set, Ferguson’s attorneys wrote Gov. Rick Scott asking him to delay the execution so psychiatrists could examine Ferguson, who they say is insane. Ferguson’s attorneys say that he has exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia and has been plagued by hallucinations and delusions as far back as 1965.
According to some reports, Ferguson believes he is the “prince of God” and that he has the ability to communicate with his dead father. Prosecutors argue that Ferguson is faking his delusions.
A group of evangelical leaders also wrote the governor, asking that Ferguson be allowed to live because of his mental instability. In the letter, the leaders write:
“The State’s psychiatrists have consistently found, over 40 years, that Mr. Ferguson suffers from severe schizophrenia and mental impairment. Now a senior citizen, he still suffers from delusions and hallucinations….The jurors at Mr. Ferguson’s sentencing hearings did not hear evidence of his extreme and long-term mental illness, the horrific abuse he experienced as a child, or the traumatic brain injury he suffered as a result of a gunshot wound to his head as a young man, which further contributed to his mental illness. Any one of these factors might have persuaded his juries to spare his life and sentence him to life in prison, but his attorneys failed to present any mitigating evidence to the jurors.”
It seemed that some of the letters had an effect on Scott, who on September 26 issued an executive order putting Ferguson’s execution on hold and ordering a mental health exam. He gave a three-doctor panel 24 hours to examine Ferguson on October 1 and decide if he is sane and aware he is about to be executed.
According to Rania Khalek of Truthout, the panel “spent less than 90 minutes sifting through Ferguson’s mental health records comprising 50 years and thousands of pages worth of 40 diagnoses of psychosis and schizophrenia…On the same day of the exam, they managed to produce a page-and-a-half report for Governor Scott concluding that Ferguson is competent for execution.”
Following that ruling, Ferguson’s attorneys appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the governor denied him clemency based on an incomplete 25-year-old investigation. They said he was never interviewed by clemency investigators because he was mentally incompetent. However, that appeal was denied, when the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the decision of Circuit Judge Nushin Sayfie, who ruled that while Ferguson “undoubtedly suffers from mental illness,” he had waited too long to ask for a clemency hearing.
Ferguson’s attorneys have appealed that decision as well to the state Supreme Court, and on Thursday, Oct. 11, the Florida Supreme Court issued a 2-day stay, to “allow for review of testimony in an evidentiary hearing into Ferguson’s competence, based on documents shared by the court.” according to a USA Today report.
But following a competency hearing last week, a Florida judge ruled against Ferguson. While the judge admitted that Ferguson is delusional, he was found to be competent for execution. Ferguson’s attorney, Christopher Handman, released this statement in response to the ruling:
“Today, Judge Glant of the Circuit Court of the Eighth Judicial Circuit found, based on what he called “credible and compelling” testimony from John Ferguson’s experts that John (1) is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, (2) has genuine “Prince of God” delusions, and (3) is not feigning or malingering any of these psychoses. Despite his findings that John is severely mentally ill, the judge ruled that John is nonetheless mentally competent for execution because he knows, as a factual matter, that the State plans to execute him.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Panetti v. Quarterman requires a rational understanding of why an individual is being put to death and the consequences of the death penalty. Nationally-recognized experts in neuropsychiatry and forensic psychology examined John and testified that he lacks a rational understanding of why he is being put to death and the effect of the death penalty. The Judge believed them. And for nearly 50 years, Florida’s own psychiatrists have diagnosed John as schizophrenia, psychotic and severely mentally impaired.
“It is impossible to fathom that the State can constitutionally put to death a man who thinks he is the Prince of God and who believes he has a destiny of being the right hand of God and returning to purify earth after the State tries to kill him. That simply is not a rational appreciation for what’s about to befall him. We are confident that either the Florida Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court will prevent this unconstitutional execution from going forward. “
Today, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled that Ferguson is competent to be executed. Ferguson’s attorneys are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
So at this point, the execution is back on, although Ferguson is still waiting for a new execution date. Initially, the Florida Department of Corrections said they would carry out the execution on Thursday at 6 p.m., after the high court’s stay expires at 4 p.m. However, they have now clarified that a new execution date will have to be set and that cannot be done until after the 2-day stay expires.