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Federal appeals court overturns stay of execution of mentally-ill Florida convict

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Monday vacated [order, PDF] a stay of execution for convicted mass murderer John Errol Ferguson. The stay was issued [JURIST report] last week by US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website], but the appeals court found the stay to be an abuse of judicial discretion because the district court did not address the factors needed for such relief under Eleventh Circuit precedent. In September Florida Governor Rick Scott [official website] signed a death warrant [text] for Ferguson, setting his execution date for last Tuesday. Ferguson has contended that he is not mentally competent to be executed, and in September Scott temporarily stayed the execution [text, PDF] and appointed three psychiatrists to examine Ferguson. The psychiatrists issued a joint report declaring Ferguson to be sane for execution and Scott subsequently lifted the stay. Ferguson was convicted of killing eight people in 1977 and two in 1978.

In June 2011 the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled [JURIST report] that Florida's procedure for imposing the death penalty was unconstitutional. Judge Jose Martinez held [opinion, PDF] that the procedure violates the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial [Cornell LII backgrounder]. An appeal of that case [text, PDF] has been filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Florida had briefly banned the death penalty in December 2006 under Governor Jeb Bush, after the botched execution [JURIST reports] of Angel Diaz. However, in July 2007 Florida Governor Charlie Crist ended the state's temporary moratorium on executions. The reinstatement came before the implementation of recommended changes [JURIST report], which had been suggested by a death penalty commission convened by Bush.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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