The State of Florida executed John Errol Ferguson today, although he suffers from severe mental illness, has long been afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia and believed that he was being executed because he “can control the sun.”
John Ferguson has been disabled by significant mental illness for more than forty years. He was found in 1965 to have visual hallucinations and was sent to mental institutions, where he was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. Among other delusions, Mr. Ferguson believed he was the “Prince of God” and was to be seated at the “right-hand” of God after his death.
Mr. Ferguson’s attorneys filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court, asserting that Florida courts applied the wrong standard for mental competency, ignoring the Court’s current interpretation requiring that an inmate have a rational understanding of why he is being executed. As the Tampa Bay Times editorial board put it, “Florida is embracing an interpretation of competency for execution so pinched that it would virtually extinguish limits on executing the severely mentally ill.”
On August 2, four mental health organizations filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in an effort to stop the execution. Ron Honberg, the director of policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the amici, said, “The death penalty is not constitutionally allowable as a punishment for John Ferguson because his delusions prevent him from understanding the nature of what is happening to him.” NAMI Florida, the Florida Psychiatric Society, and the Florida Psychological Association joined the amicus brief. The Court refused to stay the execution.