Mental Illness in Criminals a Divisive Issue

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John Errol Ferguson has been on death row in Florida for 34-years. His crimes are heinous and brutal. In October, a federal appeals court blocked his scheduled execution, which will delay the execution for weeks. The court ruled on the grounds that Ferguson has a severe mental illness.

Ferguson has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and believes he is the “prince of God” and that he will be returned to Earth after execution to save the U.S. from a communist plot. Even with that information, the Florida state Supreme Court ruled that “Ferguson understands what is taking place and why.”

His lawyers argue that Ferguson lacks rational understanding and the federal appeals court seems to agree. Though there can be no real winner or losers or even justice in a case such as this, it appears as though morality may have won out for now.

Sons and daughters have been lost, families left in anguish and lives torn apart by the actions of a gravely ill man. But the question that is being asked in context of this case is ‘should a man who is so clearly ill and delusional be punished to the full extent of the law for his crimes?’

There are those who would say ‘yes’ and their argument would certainly be a compelling one. But a better understanding of mental illness and its effect on a patient’s life is needed. Mental illness can tear away reality and leave an individual grasping at perceived facts. How much blame can you then place at that individual’s feet?

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