Supreme Court stays Fla. inmate's execution

Oct. 23, 2012 at 11:45 PM
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MIAMI, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court late Tuesday stayed the execution of a mentally ill inmate on Florida's death row who earlier ate what was to be his last meal.

John Errol Ferguson, 64, had been scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. EDT at Florida State Prison in Starke, where he has been on death row for more than three decades for murdering eight people. That deadline passed without the sentence being carried out as corrections officials awaited word on a last-ditch appeal filed at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The appeals court blocked the execution before 9 p.m., and the Supreme Court upheld the stay shortly before midnight, CNN reported.

State Corrections Department spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said the U.S. Supreme Court had denied three earlier appeals filed by the attorney for the diagnosed schizophrenic.

The Miami Herald reported Ferguson's last meal included a chicken country fried sandwich and sweet tea. The newspaper said he declined to issue any last public statements. While Ferguson met with a prison chaplain, no relatives visited him, a corrections spokeswoman said.

Ferguson was convicted in the late 1970s of eight murders in Hialeah and Carol City. His attorney said Ferguson believes he is the "Prince of God" and argued the execution would be cruel and unusual punishment.

Ferguson was originally scheduled to be executed Oct. 16.

On the state level, a judge had decided Ferguson understood why he was to be put to death and the state Supreme Court declined to overturn the judge's decision.

A federal judge, however, on Saturday issued a stay of the execution, saying mental competency issues raised by Ferguson's attorneys had to be explored. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit ruled Monday U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley "abused" his discretion when he issued the stay.

"Ferguson has failed to identify clear and convincing evidence upon which [Hurley] could decide that the state court unreasonably determined that Ferguson is competent to be executed," the judges wrote.

Ferguson's attorney, Christopher Handman, had hoped the nation's highest court would intervene.

"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," Handman said in a statement Monday.

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