Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Update: Florida's execution of John Ferguson foiled

John Errol Ferguson was set to be murdered by the State of Florida last night.

The State of Florida said he was perfectly competent enough to strap him down and pump his veins full of lethal chemicals. The trial judge said he was sane. The appellate court said he was sane. The state supreme court said he was sane.

But then the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said he wasn't.

Mr. Ferguson suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He believes he is the prince of god. He believes he has been prepared by god to save the United States from communism.

He is also a murderer. He killed eight people in Florida in 1977 and two more in 1978.

Our courts have struggled over the years to justify the power of the state to kill for the sake of killing. Our courts have decided that it isn't right for the state to kill someone if that person doesn't understand why the state wants them dead - or if that person doesn't even understand that the state wants to kill him.

After all, what fun would it be to kill someone if the act didn't cause mental anguish to that person? Is revenge not as sweet when the target doesn't realize what's happening?

If it's not okay for the state to murder an inmate because that inmate either doesn't realize he is being murdered or doesn't understand why he's being murdered, how is it any more right for the state to murder an inmate who is perfectly competent?

I would love to have someone explain to me the difference between killing a sane person and killing an insane person. In my mind it's either perfectly acceptable to do it in both cases - or it's unacceptable in either.

By now y'all should know which side of the fence I fall on. The power of the state to take the life of a person is the most invasive power the government has. The very notion is anathema to democracy and limited government.

I understand what's going on here. The game plan for death penalty opponents is to chip away at the legality of the death penalty by creating a patchwork of exceptions. At some point there will be so many exceptions that the death penalty will be defeated. For a historical example just look at how the Fourth Amendment has been completely eviscerated by a thousand exceptions. At some point the foundation cracks and the framework comes crashing down.

But it doesn't have to go down this way. The only crime for which the death penalty is prescribed in the Constitution is treason. The Nine in Robes could decide that having a patchwork of laws across the country detailing who can be killed for what - as well as having different laws across the country regarding who can order death and how we conduct jury selection in death penalty cases - violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

If the crimes for which one can be sentenced to death are arbitrary and the method by which the state chooses who is to die is arbitrary, then, it follows, the death penalty, itself, is arbitrary (which is why it was declared unconstitutional in the first place).

In the end I don't think it matters whether Mr. Ferguson is or isn't competent. The question is when are we going to stop allowing the government to decide who lives and who dies?

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