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Supreme Court allows stay of execution for mentally ill Florida man

The US Supreme Court [official website] opted Tuesday not to act [text, PDF] on a request to vacate a last-minute stay of execution order issued by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website], meaning the execution will not be carried out at least until next month. The determination not to act on this most recent order to stay the execution concluded a series of contradictory last-minute orders volleyed between the courts regarding the execution of 64-year-old John Errol Ferguson, which had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday evening. The request to vacate the stay of execution came from the state of Florida which had appealed to the high court after the Eleventh Circuit issued a last-minute stay. Prior to that order, the Eleventh Circuit had overturned a lower-court stay of execution [JURIST reports] before finally delaying the execution so that it could hear motions in the case.

The question at issue is whether Ferguson, who was convicted in the 1970s of eight killings in south Florida, has the mental competency to be executed. Ferguson is a paranoid schizophrenic who suffers from psychotic delusions that he is the "prince of God." In September Florida Governor Rick Scott [official website] signed a death warrant [text] for Ferguson, setting his execution date for Tuesday. Also in September, following the issuance of the death warrant, Ferguson's lawyers argued that he is not mentally competent to be executed, 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.

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