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Court Lifts Execution Stay For Mentally Ill Mass Killer

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John Errol Ferguson (Source: CBS4)

John Errol Ferguson (Source: CBS4)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) – A federal appeals court has lifted a district judge’s stay of execution for a South Florida man convicted of more than half a dozen murders.

The state’s Department of Corrections said the execution of 64-year old John Ferguson has been set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Florida State Prison.

Ferguson has been on death row for more than three decades. He was convicted of eight murders in the late 1970s in Hialeah and Carol City.

Ferguson’s lawyers argued he was mentally ill and therefore the Constitution prohibits the state from executing him. Two of the three appeals court judges in Atlanta on Monday ruled that U.S. Judge Daninel Hurley “abused” his discretion on Saturday when he issued a stay in the case.

Chris Handman, one of Ferguson’s lawyers, said in a statement that he’s disappointed “a divided panel” vacated the stay of execution and remains “hopeful that the Supreme Court will reverse this decision because there is no evidence that Mr. Ferguson has a rational understanding of the reason for, and effect of, his execution.”

The Florida Supreme Court this month upheld a lower court ruling based on testimony by a panel of psychiatrists appointed by Gov. Rick Scott that Ferguson is legally competent to be executed even though he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

The state justices wrote that “Ferguson understands what is taking place and why.”

Ferguson’s lawyers contend an inmate’s awareness of his execution as the state’s rationale for putting him to death is not enough. They argue the inmate must have a “rational understanding,” a higher standard than mere awareness.

The U.S. Supreme Court set the rational understanding standard in a 2007 case, but the Florida justices noted that the opinion specified that it wasn’t attempting to “set down a rule governing all competency determinations.”

Ferguson lacks rational understanding, his lawyers say, because he suffers from delusions that he’s the “prince of God” and that God is preparing him to return to Earth after his execution and save the United States from a communist plot.

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