John Ferguson will be executed tonight in a Florida prison. Ferguson’s execution had been postponed due to a stay of execution, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay yesterday. Ferguson was unsuccessful in attempts to use the insanity defense when he was convicted of killing eight people in 1977 and 1978. He currently suffers from paranoid schizophrenia but was determined to be fit for execution by Florida justices because he understands his situation and why he is being put to death. Ferguson’s lawyers argued that the standard that should be applied according to the U.S. Supreme Court is rational understanding, not mere awareness, and that his delusions indicate that he is not rationally aware. The Florida justices were unpersuaded by this logic and followed Supreme Court precedent that mental illness does not disqualify an individual from being put to death if they understand the sentence and why they are being punished.
This takes me back to our class discussion about Ford v. Wainwright and the Supreme Court’s ruling that the mentally incompetent cannot be executed. If someone is competent at the time of conviction and sentencing, why does their mental state at the time of execution matter? The Court based their decision on the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but using that logic wouldn’t abolishing the death penalty entirely be the proper course of action? The arguments about whether or not capital punishment should be abolished aside, it seems that once someone has been sentenced to die and put on death row any changes in their mental state would be irrelevant.
The article about John Ferguson’s execution can be found here.