John Ferguson has been on death row for 35 years after being convicted of involvement in two different multiple murders.
In 1977, Ferguson and two accomplices carried out a home-invasion robbery in Miami in which they bound eight people, tying their hands behind their backs, and made them kneel before shooting each in the head. Two of the victims survived and told police what happened.
Six months later, Ferguson came upon two 17-year-old high school students parked in a car by the side of the road in Hialeah, Fla. He shot the boy and chased the girl into nearby woods, where he raped her, stole her jewelry, and then forced her to kneel before shooting her in the head. Ferguson then returned to the car and shot the boy again, this time in the head.
Ferguson had been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for decades. Mental-health experts documented a history of delusions and hallucinations. He was said to believe that his pending execution was a plot by the state of Florida to prevent him from ascending to sit on a heavenly throne at the right hand of God.
“Ferguson believes that he can’t be killed, that the state does not have the special powers that he has and therefore cannot execute him,” Handman wrote in his brief to the high court. The lawyer quoted Ferguson as once saying, “just like Jesus, you’ll come and look [in my grave] and you won’t find me there.”
The defense lawyer cited Ferguson’s belief in life after death as proof of his client’s inability to “rationally and meaningfully comprehend the consequences of execution.”
A panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected the argument.
“Ferguson has a mental illness but he does understand that he is going to die by execution, and he understands that it is going to happen because he committed eight murders,” wrote Judge Edward Carnes for the three-judge panel.