It may be a matter of personal bias, but it never struck me that people who hold mainstream Christian beliefs were the equivalent of a psychotic mass murderer. Then again, I’m not Judge David Glant in Florida, where insanity has apparently been redefined so that a 64-year-old convicted murderer, John Ferguson, with a history of mental illness /files/66432-58232/doc10122012103557.pdf”>his decision, calls the evidence of his insanity “credible and compelling.” In Florida, this apparently not only means he’s sane enough to execute, but pretty much a “normal Christian.”
Regardless of his long history of mental illness, there is no evidence that he does not understand what is taking place and why it is taking place. Ferguson’s “Prince of God” delusion, as well as his religious beliefs in general, shows a man who has a remarkably clear and relatively normal Christian belief, albeit a grandiose one… In some sense, Ferguson appears to have fit his grandiose delusion into a traditional religious worldview.
This raises a rather disturbing question, whether a “traditional religious worldview” causes a man to do the horrible things Ferguson did, as Fred Grimm describes in the Miami Herald.
On July 27, 1977, Ferguson was one of three masked gunmen who burst into a Carol City home looking for drugs. Ferguson and an accomplice forced six of the occupants to lay face-down on the floor and then shot them, one by one, in the back of the head. Six months later in Hialeah, Ferguson surprised a teenaged couple sitting in their car. He killed them both, after brutally raping the girl.
This is outrageous conduct, but it’s compounded by the fact that Ferguson, who was committed to a mental hospital, was released.
And finally a diagnosis in 1975 came with a warning that reads, in retrospect, like prophecy. “He has a long-standing, severe illness which will most likely require long-term inpatient hospitalization. This man is dangerous and cannot be released under any circumstances.”
Yet, in an act of bureaucratic insanity, less than a year later Ferguson was released from state custody, this diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who was delusional and impulsive and explosive and aggressive and dangerous.
Apparently, in Florida, “cannot be released under any circumstances” means cut him loose within a year. They really need their own dictionary down there, as those words would suggest to most people that this is a terribly sick man who could murder a lot of people if let go. And he did.
Aside: In a rational world, who bears greater culpability for the murderous acts of utterly insane and dangerous man: the crazy guy or the government official who, knowing he was nuts, released him to prey on the public?
But as mentally ill as John Ferguson may have been for those five decades, believing that he was the “Prince of God” whose mission it was to stop a communist plot to take over the country when he is resurrected “at the right hand of God” to drive the commies away, he doesn’t pass the crazy test in Florida because, as Judge Glant held, this is what relatively normal Christians believe. It has to be true, because a judge says so.
If I was a relatively normal Christian, I might find this more than a bit insulting. As a lawyer, it’s just mind-boggling, unless he was just looking for an excuse to execute Ferguson anyway.
Of course, this being a civilized nation, we don’t execute anyone who doesn’t know he’s about to be zapped from existence. But the courts have decided that somewhere in that muddled and messianic mind of John Errol Ferguson, he’s aware, enough anyway, of what awaits him.
Notions of “normal Christian belief” must be slightly different up there in Bradford County. Either that or when the convict before the court has eight murders on his rap sheet, a judge will accept even the most meager excuse to dispatch him to oblivion. Yet, Judge Glant didn’t really need to stray outside the parameters of the law, which holds such a narrow definition of insanity that a history of outrageous craziness hardly matters.
According to the state’s doctors, Ferguson understood that he was going to be executed, even if his grasp with limited to the twisted paradigm that exists somewhere within the dark recesses of a psychotic mind. As his pro bono lawyer, Chris Handman explained,
there’s a difference between a “factual awareness” by Ferguson that he’s about to be put to death and “a rational appreciation of the death penalty.” But he has yet to find a court willing to acknowledge that difference. He’ll try the Florida Supreme Court this week. But time is running out.
Close enough for killing in Florida. Just your traditional Christian values at work here. Nothing out of the ordinary.
John Errol Ferguson is scheduled to be executed this Thursday. He knows it, even if he think it’s so he can be resurrected to fight the commies with his old man, God. And this is not only considered sane in Florida, but normal Christian beliefs. As Fred Grimm wrote, “[e]ven for fervent advocates of capital punishment, that’s got to take a bit of the fun out of execution day.
Update: An appeal has been filed , and two professors of religion, John Kelsay and David Levenson, of Florida State University have filed an amici brief that Ferguson’s psychotic view does not reflect normal Christian beliefs, but “differ radically from traditional Christian teaching.”
Update 2: The Florida Supreme Court New York Times has an editorial against the execution of Crazy John Ferguson. The Supreme Court, however, did not read it. The Court denied the petition for cert and a stay of execution. Ferguson will be executed on October 23rd.
Update 4: And a habeas petition hearing has been granted (h/t Ed. at Blawgreview):
U.S. District Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley granted the motion for a stay in the case of John Errol Ferguson, who was to be executed Tuesday after 34 years on Florida’s death row.
“The issues raised merit full, reflective consideration,” the court said.
If nothing else, Ferguson will not be executed on Tuesday.
Update 5: While others were watching the third presidential debate, the 11th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, vacated Judge Hurley’s stay of execution, by-passing the usual practice of allowing the district court to hold its hearing and reach a decision, and thus forcing the case toward death without a habeas determination.
Update 6: Ferguson was scheduled to be executed today, October 23rd, but the 11th Circuit granted a stay of execution and ordered the matter briefed, despite it’s having vacated a stay the day before.