John Ferguson, 64, was set to be put to death Tuesday but U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hurley stopped the countdown Saturday and scheduled a hearing next Friday on Ferguson's claim he should be spared because of his mental illness.
Ferguson's appeals lawyers contend he is a delusional paranoid schizophrenic who by law may not be executed because it falls under the constitutional definition of cruel and unusual punishment.
"In order for the state to execute him, Mr. Ferguson must have a rational understanding of the reason for, and effect of, his execution," defense attorney Chris Handman said in a written statement. "A man who thinks he is the immortal Prince of God and who believes he is incarcerated because of a Communist plot quite clearly has no rational understanding of the effect of his looming execution and the reason for it."
Ferguson was sentenced to death for killing eight people in a late-1970s murder spree. Six of the victims were massacred in a Dade County home-invasion robbery, the Miami Herald said.
In an op-ed article Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times noted that other judges have ruled that Ferguson indeed understands his sentence and is eligible for execution.
Handman has argued that Ferguson has a "factual" understanding that he is in prison but cannot rationalize it to the point it passes constitutional muster.