In four days, the state of Florida is scheduled to execute John Errol Ferguson, a mentally ill man convicted of multiple murders. Earlier today, a Florida judge held that this execution may move forward despite agreeing that Ferguson is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with a history of hallucinations:
Dr. Woods opined that based upon Ferguson’s mental health history, psychological testing, and because of a deep fissure in his brain, consistent with that observed in schizophrenic patients, Ferguson suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. . . . Dr. Woods further testified that Ferguson’s core delusion is the belief that he is the “Prince of God,” and that the Department of Corrections has been preparing hum for “ascension.” Ferguson also believes that there is a Communist plot to take over the country, and at some point after death he will be resurrected “at the right hand of God” to play a significant role in driving them away . . . . There was little evidence put before this Court, either in the documents filed or in the testimony given, which leads this Court to believe that Ferguson’s “Prince of God” delusion is anything other than a genuine belief . . . .
This Court finds that though Ferguson does have a diagnosed mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia, there is no evidence that his mental illness interferes, in any way, with his “rational understanding” of the fact of his pending execution and the reason for it. . . . John Errol Ferguson is sane to be executed within the meaning of rule 3.811(b) and rule 3.812(b).
The reason why this result is possible is because of the Supreme Court’s nonsensical decisions governing mentally ill inmates. The Court recognizes that it is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment to execute juvenile offenders or the intellectually disabled because their diminished mental capacity makes it harder for them “to understand and process information, to learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, or to control impulses — that also make it less likely that they can process the information of the possibility of execution as a penalty and, as a result, control their conduct based upon that information.” This same rationale applies to mentally ill individuals, such as Mr. Ferguson, but the Supreme Court has not yet fully applied the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments to these inmates.
To be sure, severely mentally ill individuals remain shielded from execution if they are unable to form a “rational understanding” of why they are being executed, but this is a much higher standard than the one that applies to juveniles or the intellectually disabled — and this distinction makes no sense. There is no reason why the Constitution’s full protection should not be extended to Ferguson for the exact same reason it is extended to many other people with mental disabilities.