Lawyer: John Ferguson shouldn't be executed, mentally ill

65-year-old convict killed 8 people in the 1970s

Published On: Aug 04 2013 08:25:41 AM EDT   Updated On: Aug 04 2013 08:59:09 AM EDT
STARKE, Fla. -

Gov. Rick Scott is making a big push to expedite the executions of many prisoners who are currently on the state's death row. He's signed five death warrants this year, three within a four-week span this spring -- a pace rarely seen since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

One of the condemned is John Ferguson, who's set to be executed on Monday. Ferguson who has been on death row for more than 30 years for killing eight people in South Florida in the 1970s. He's also a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he's the "Prince of God."

Scott's decision to move forward with Ferguson's execution has spurred his lawyers, supported by the National Association for Mental Illness and the American Bar Association, to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Because he's mentally ill, they argue, his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The court has until Monday to stay the execution or allow it to proceed.

Ferguson is the latest death row inmate to challenge the Supreme Court to clarify its earlier ruling on what constitutes a "rational understanding" of an impending execution.

Ferguson's mental health was an issue in his prosecution for the high-profile cases, but ultimately he was found competent to stand trial and convicted. But during his years in prison, Ferguson had many documented psychotic incidents, including one in which he became so paranoid he lost 20 pounds in 10 days and had to be hospitalized.

His mental health has been assessed occasionally in connection with post-conviction appeals, most recently in the fall of 2012, after Scott signed a death warrant ordering his execution that October.

As required by Florida law, Scott appointed three psychiatrists to a commission charged with determining Ferguson's competency to be executed.

Last week, Rick Scott set August 5 as a new execution date for Ferguson, and his lawyers have asked the US Supreme Court to step in. The American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness have filed amicus briefs on Ferguson’s behalf.

Ferguson's odds of avoiding the needle aren't particularly good. Last year, lawyers made similar arguments in an effort to spare Edwin Turner from execution in Mississippi.

Like Ferguson, Turner had killed two people shortly after being released from a mental hospital. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court declined to intervene and he was put to death last year.