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Court denies stay of execution in Florida case

This afternoon the Court declined to stay the execution (and denied the petition for certiorari) of John Ferguson, a Florida death row inmate convicted in 1978 for his role in eight murders on two separate occasions.  In urging the Court to stay his execution and grant review, Ferguson — whose attorneys describe him as having a “history of serious mental illness” and who had been diagnosed as a “paranoid schizophrenic” — had argued that he had been denied due process in his clemency proceedings because (among other things) he never received a clemency hearing.  Ferguson also argued that his execution, after thirty-four years on death row, would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  Ferguson and his attorneys contended that executing him now would not serve either of the two goals of punishment — deterrence and retribution — advanced by the Court in cases such as Roper v. Simmons and Atkins v. Virginia.

The stay was originally presented to Justice Thomas, who serves as the Circuit Justice for the Eleventh Circuit; he then referred it to the entire Court.  Justice Breyer — who has in the past expressed some sympathy for Eighth Amendment claims like Ferguson’s — indicated that he would have granted the application for a stay.  The Chief Justice did not participate in Ferguson’s case.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Court denies stay of execution in Florida case, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 18, 2012, 5:10 PM),