Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Insanity infects both the mass killer and the justice system

What price are you willing to pay for justice?

Would you sacrifice compassion? A small slice of morality?

Would you defy a landmark provision within the U.S. Constitution? If you're unsure, consider this:

The state of Florida was scheduled to execute John Errol Ferguson on Tuesday but a federal judge granted an emergency stay on Saturday.

Ferguson, 64, was convicted of eight murders in South Florida in 1978, admitted to two more while in jail, and evidence suggests he also is responsible for the death of a St. Petersburg couple in 1977.

So, no, empathy does not run deep for the man.

The issue, however, is whether Ferguson is sane enough to be put to death.

The victim of a horrific childhood, Ferguson was declared psychotic and incompetent by a court-appointed doctor in 1971, years before his first murder conviction.

Another expert testified that Ferguson, while facing robbery charges in 1975, was a danger to others. A third expert was more succinct:

"He should not be released under any circumstances."

Yet he was transferred from a state hospital to a prison, and was back on the street within a year. His murderous spree began a short time later.

"He is completely paranoid. A schizophrenic," said his attorney, Christopher Handman, whose law firm, Hogan Lovells, has represented Ferguson pro bono for more than 30 years. "When you meet him, he is deeply suspicious of your motives.

"He has a very tenuous grasp on reality."

The sparring over his punishment has gone on for decades. Appeals have been upheld, denied and ignored at various court levels since 1978.

The latest argument revolves around the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation that it extends to the execution of an insane person.

Judges have ruled Ferguson understands his sentence and is therefore eligible for execution. Handman argues his client has a factual understanding, but not a rational appreciation. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case on Friday, but a federal judge ruled late Saturday that the issues raised had merit.

So, once again, justice waits.

It has been 35 years since Ferguson and two other men tied and blindfolded eight people and shot them in the backs of their heads in a drug-related robbery. Two survived.

It has been 35 years since an elderly couple from St. Pete went to Miami for a funeral and were tied up in their hotel room and shot in the backs of their heads with the same gun used in the other murders. Ferguson was never charged.

It has been 34 years since Belinda Worley and Brian Glenfeldt, a pair of 17-year-olds at Hialeah High, went out for ice cream and never came home. Glenfeldt was robbed and murdered, and Worley was raped by Ferguson before he killed her.

"Belinda was so sweet. She had long, silky, honey-blond hair. That kid looked like an angel. She was an angel," said Valerie Murguia, a classmate. "The idea that that (expletive) is still alive sickens me. He's beat the system for 34 years.

"He's lived an entire life since then."

Is Ferguson insane? Probably. Would his death be cruel and unusual punishment? Technically, I suppose.

Should justice prevail over legal parsing in this case?

I hope so, eventually.

Insanity infects both the mass killer and the justice system 10/20/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 20, 2012 11:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What you need to know for Thursday, Oct. 19

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today

    White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida tonight and the school is on high alert for tensions. [Associated Press]
  2. Bowen: Park land deal raises Penny for Pasco questions

    Environment

    The Penny for Pasco is unambiguous.

    At least it is supposed to be.

    There was no equivocating in 2004 when Penny for Pasco supporters detailed how the sales tax proceeds would be spent: schools, transportation, public safety and environmental lands. No money for parks. No money for recreation.

    Pasco County is considering a loan from its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Mangement Program to buy land for a park in the Villages of Pasadena Hills in east-central Pasco. Shown here is the Jumping Gully Preserve in Spring Hil, acquired by ELAMP in 2009 and 2011.
[Douglas R. Clifford, Times]
  3. Another Tampa Bay agency loses tax credits worth millions in dispute over application error

    News

    LARGO — Another Tampa Bay housing agency has lost out on a multi-million dollar tax credit award because of problems with its application.

    A duplex in Rainbow Village, a public housing complex in Largo. The Pinellas County Housing Authority is planning to build new affordable-housing in the complex but was recently disqualified from a state tax credit award because of an issue with its application.
  4. Live blog: Many unknowns as Richard Spencer speaks in Gainesville today

    College

    GAINESVILLE — A small army of law enforcement officers, many of them from cities and counties around the state, have converged on the University of Florida in preparation for today's speaking appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    Florida Highway Patrol cruisers jammed the parking lot Wednesday at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville, part of a big show of force by law enforcement ahead of Thursday's appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer. [KATHRYN VARN | Times]
  5. As Clearwater Marine Aquarium expands, it asks the city for help

    Growth

    CLEARWATER — When Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates saw an architect's initial design for the facility's massive expansion project, he told them to start all over.

    Clearwater Marine Aquarium Veterinarian Shelly Marquardt (left), Brian Eversole, Senior Sea Turtle and Aquatic Biologist (middle) and Devon Francke, Supervisor of Sea Turtle Rehab, are about to give a rescued juvenile green sea turtle, suffering from a lot of the Fibropapillomatosis tumors, fluids at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Wednesday afternoon. Eventually when the turtle is healthy enough the tumors will be removed with a laser and after it is rehabilitated it will be released back into the wild.  -  The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is launching a $66 million renovation to expand its facilities to take in injured animals and space to host visitors. The aquarium is asking the city for a $5 million grant Thursday to help in the project. American attitudes toward captive animals are changing. Sea World is slipping after scrutiny on the ethics of captive marine life. But CEO David Yates says CMA is different, continuing its mission of rehab and release, it's goal is to promote education, not exploitation. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times