(Oct. 15, 2012) John Errol Ferguson, 64, is scheduled to be executed in Florida this week after 34 years on death row for a mass killing.
A Florida judge has ruled that Ferguson “undoubtedly suffers from mental illness” – paranoid schizophrenia and delusions he is the “Prince of God” and will be resurrected after his execution – but rejected a defense motion to stay the prisoner’s execution ("Florida inmate found fit to be executed despite history of mental illness," The Guardian, Oct. 14).
Ferguson’s lawyers say their client has been too mentally ill for them to interview him for a clemency investigation, which began 25 years ago. Circuit Judge David Clark says Ferguson is competent to be executed because he understands the sentence and why it is being imposed on him. The decision has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
At virtually the same time Ferguson’s case was being heard in Florida last week, the US Supreme Court was hearing arguments in a pair two cases involving two more inmates who are not mentally competent enough to help their lawyers pursue appeals (“Should appeals wait for inmates to be competent?”, Associated Press, Oct 10). At issue in these appeals are decisions by lower courts in Ohio and Arizona, which imposed indefinite stays of execution for the prisoners because they could not communicate effectively in their own behalf.
The court system will settle these and similar appeals elsewhere, but what remains unsettled is why tragedies are coming to this in the first place. Untreated mental illness is a factor in an estimated 10% of all the homicide deaths committed in the United States every year. Effective treatments for severe mental illness exist that would reduce the number of homicide victims and - by extension - the capital cases that result from them.
As long as mental illness policy and systems fail to recognize and address this connection with timely and effective treatment, homicide victims and their killers alike will continue continue dying as a conseequence of non-treatment.