Mental Health Advocates To U.S. Supreme Court: Stop 'Prince of God' Inmate's Execution

Jul 30, 2013

The American Bar Association has filed a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reexamine the case of a Florida death row inmate scheduled to be executed next week. Law scholars say the case could help clarify exactly how mentally ill someone must be to avoid being put to death.

John Errol Ferguson is set to be executed Monday for eight murders he committed in the Miami area during the 1970s. But his lawyer says Ferguson refers to himself as the “Prince of God” and believes his death will not be permanent.

University of Miami law professor Scott Sundby sums up the Bar Association's request to the U.S. high court like this: “Ferguson, everybody agrees, is a schizophrenic suffering from delusions, but before he can be executed, the Supreme Court needs to clarify just what it is that he has to understand. ”

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision said inmates must have what it calls a “rational understanding” of their execution. Several mental illness advocacy groups are filing their own brief in the case, arguing lower courts failed to apply that standard in sentencing Ferguson.

Last week, a federal appeals court lifted an emergency stay on the execution that it issued last October.