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Federal judge grants stay of execution of mentally ill Florida prisoner

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] on Saturday granted a stay of execution for death row inmate John Errol Ferguson in order to hear arguments on his habeus corpus petition on Friday. Ferguson was found guilty [AP report] of killing eight people in 1977 and two in 1978. In September, Florida Governor Rick Scott [official website] signed a death warrant [text] for Ferguson, setting his execution date for last Tuesday. Scott temporarily stayed the execution [text, PDF] and appointed three psychiatrists to examine Ferguson. The psychiatrists issued a joint report declaring Ferguson to be sane for execution, and Scott subsequently lifted the stay. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling based on the psychiatrists' testimony that Ferguson was sane to be executed. The US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari [opinion, PDF] in Ferguson's appeal on Thursday, with Justice Breyer as the sole member who would have granted the stay.

In June 2011 a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled [JURIST report] that Florida's procedure for imposing the death penalty was unconstitutional. Judge Jose Martinez held [opinion, PDF] that the procedure violates the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial [Cornell LII backgrounder]. An appeal of that case [text, PDF] has been filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website]. Florida had briefly banned the death penalty in December 2006 under Governor Jeb Bush, after the botched execution [JURIST reports] of Angel Diaz. However, in July 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist ended the state's temporary suspension on executions. The reinstatement came before the implementation of recommended changes [JURIST report], which had been suggested by a death penalty commission convened by Bush.

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