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Follow-up on Ferguson

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The strange last-minute maneuvering in the execution of Florida mass murderer John Ferguson is becoming a little more clear, but only a little, as documents become available.

As noted in my prior posts (here and here) and in Bill's, the state courts considered and rejected Ferguson's claim that he is too crazy to execute, a federal district judge granted a stay, the Eleventh Circuit lifted it, and the Supreme Court declined to intervene.

Then (according to the state's later application to the Supreme Court), Ferguson's lawyers went back to the same district judge.  In a phone hearing, the judge denied a stay but granted a certificate of appealability.  The same panel that had vacated the district court's stay as an abuse of discretion now granted its own, based on the issuance of the COA and its reading of the circuit rules.

If that is a correct reading of the rules, the rules need work.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the State's request to lift the stay.

One of the issues in the COA is:

B. Whether the Florida Supreme Court's affirmance of the state trial court was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding, viz, that (a) the petitioner has a documented history of paranoid schizophrenia; (b) he is not malingering, and (c) he has a fixed grandiose delusion that he is the "Prince of God."
But none of those facts, individually or cumulatively, establishes a Ford claim.  One can have paranoid schizophrenia and a grandiose delusion and still have a rational understanding of why he is being executed.

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This stay is worse than lawless, and it shows that the federal courts, at the end of the day, are more concerned with the handwringing that surrounds executions than they are about the rule of law. The idea that the 11th Circuit's appellate rules prevented the 11th Circuit, on a last-minute (actually, last-minute is an inaccurate description, since the time for executing the guy had passed) is utter nonsense. Last I checked, Supreme Court caselaw on when a stay of execution could issue trumped 11th Circuit rules. And plainly, that caselaw was not discussed, let alone followed.

In addition, that the 11th Circuit failed to discuss the highly irregular "hearing" outside of court shows that the panel, which includes Judge Pryor, a rock-solid jurist, was utterly unconcerned with whether the District Court had acted appropriately. That is unacceptable.

I'm sure that this hazy idea that "a life is at stake" had something to do with this (and the Supreme Court's unexplained stays which probably led the 11th Circuit to believe that it wouldn't be overturned). That is unacceptable. Ferguson is an octuple-murderer. Let that sink in. His life has been decreed forfeit for those crimes. The state and the victims are entitled not to have circus-like procedures to see whether he can finally be executed. A sovereign state was put through a circus-like atmosphere, and federal courts have no business doing such a thing. Clearly, the idea that "a life is at stake" (which is nothing more than sloganeering) obscures a lot of other interests that are at stake, one of which is that of the victims' families who, unlike the murderer, did not voluntarily put themselves in this position (funny how federal judges never seem to care about that when they balance the interests).

Finally, the State of Florida, I believe, has some responsibility here. Apparently, Florida was, as a matter of comity, allowing the federal courts to deal with all the last-minute appeals. That courtesy has its place where federal judges don't hold undignified last-minute hearings to give the murderer a do-over. It has no place where the state is basically being jerked around by federal judges. Additionally, if defense counsel knows that the states will not execute based on a filing, rather than a stay order, that actually encourages these last-minute filings. If the state were to do this, there would be the predictable shrieking, but if a State AG simply explained that there was no stay and that the victims deserved not to be jerked around.

The Supreme Court has the responsibility to deal with this, yet it has shown itself utterly irresponsible. It doesn't explain its stays, and it grants them seemingly in the face of its pronouncements.

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