He’s sane enough for us to kill him.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainright confirmed the common law principle that execution of the mentally insane violates the constitution (“ For today, no less than before, we may seriously question the retributive value of executing a person who has no comprehension of why he has been singled out and stripped of his fundamental right to life.”). And while the justices have also ruled against execution of the mentally retarded, there is no federal proscription against the execution of those whose mental illness falls short of the definition of legal insanity, a definition that is, for the most part, determined by procedures prescribed by the individual states.
In 1977, John Ferguson and two accomplices looking for drugs broke into a private home and murdered six people. Six months later, Ferguson came across a young couple parked in the car and murdered them both after raping the girl. Ferguson also has a long, thoroughly documented history of paranoid schizophrenia; documented in the court system, no less.
Yet in deciding an appeal to stop the execution, Florida Circuit Court Judge David Glant ruled that “there is no evidence that he does not understand what is taking place and why it is taking place.” Particularly in addressing Ferguson’s claims that he is the “Prince of God” and will be resurrected with Jesus in the afterlife, Judge Glant said
“There is no evidence that Ferguson’s belief as to his role in the world and what may happen to him in the afterlife is so significantly different from beliefs other Christians may hold so as to consider it a sign of insanity.”
Glant describes this as a “relatively normal Christian belief”.
While the low hanging fruit in this story may be a judge equating the religious beliefs of a paranoid schizophrenic to those of mainstream Christians, the larger issues is one of a country that still carries out the death penalty, and still executes people with serious mental illness. It is estimated that 5-1o% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness and that since 1983 60 people with mental illness or retardation have been executed.