Pending execution casts spotlight on horrific Miami murder spree in late '70s

For more than three decades, Edna Worley struggled to cope with the rape and murder of her teenage daughter.

Her comfort: that killer John Errol Ferguson would be executed for killing Belinda Worley, 17, and seven others.

Worley, however, died in May.

“She always said Ferguson would outlive her and if she could, she would pull the switch,” said her son, Michael Worley, 49, of Cooper City. “She waited for the execution her entire life right up to her death.

“She kept every newspaper article and would visit Belinda’s grave every week right up to the week she died. She planned on attending the execution. She wanted to be there for her daughter when Ferguson was executed.”

After nearly 35 years of appeals, Ferguson is scheduled to die Thursday by lethal injection for a 1970s murder spree that shocked South Florida.

His supporters, however, say his execution is “cruel and unusual punishment” because his severely ill mind long ago succumbed to delusions and hallucinations, including regular communication with his dead father.

“Nationally-recognized experts in neuropsychiatry and forensic psychology examined John and testified that he lacks a rational understanding of why he is being put to death,’’ said his lawyer, Christopher Handman.

Ferguson, on Death Row since 1978, is unfamiliar to newer generations. He was convicted of murdering six inside a Carol City house — then, the largest mass murder in Dade history.

He also shot and killed Belinda’s boyfriend, Brian Glenfeldt, 17, whom she met through a Hialeah High Christian youth group.

Ferguson also was convicted of attempted murder in the robbery of another couple at a lover’s lane. Detectives suspected, but never charged him with, the brutal robbery-slaying of an elderly couple at a Miami motel.

“He was a pretty vicious man,” said retired Miami-Dade Judge Robert Kaye, who as a prosecutor in 1978 put Ferguson on Death Row. “We had pretty good information that he killed at least 12 people.”

Defense attorneys say Ferguson grew up the son of an alcoholic, abusive father. His mother abandoned him at age 11, leaving him in a house overrun with snakes, scorpions and chickens.

When Ferguson was 21 years old, he stole a deputy’s gun and was about to shoot when the deputy fished another gun from his boot, shooting Ferguson four times — including a round to the head.

“After returning from the hospital, he began to show serious mental instability, irrational thinking, unexplainable hostility and grossly impaired intelligence,” according to a biography prepared by Ferguson’s lawyers. “As time passed, these conditions worsened.”

He spent several years in state psychiatric care. One doctor called him “homicidal” and said he “should not be released under any circumstances.”

Ferguson was nevertheless discharged from a state hospital, convicted of robbery and sent to prison, where he served 225 days.

In May 1977, police found an elderly couple from St. Petersburg — in town for a funeral — shot to death at Miami’s Gold Dust motel. The couple had been tied up, robbed, brutally beaten and shot, execution-style.

The same handgun was used to slay the “Carol City Six” in July 1977.

Ferguson and three others, posing as electrical workers, tied up eight people, shooting each in the head.

The dead: Livingstone Stocker, 33, Michael Miller, 24, Henry Clayton, 35, John Holmes, 26, Gilbert Williams, 37, and Charles Cesar Stinson, 35. Two survived: Johnnie Hall, 45, and Margaret Wooden, 24.

“We went up there as a squad, and it was 24 hours a day for the next three-four days,” recalled former Miami-Dade homicide Lt. Don Carey. “It made a lot of press. The director of the department even came out, and he didn’t come out to many homicide scenes.”

Three months later, Ferguson — posing as a cop — shot two teens during a robbery attempt. That couple survived.

Brian and Belinda did not.

The teens had dated casually for just a few months. Brian had knack for imitating Steve Martin. Belinda — whom one teacher called ‘Miss Sunshine’ — mulled a career as a nurse.

On the night of Jan. 8, 1978, they went for ice cream at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor at Hialeah’s Westland Mall.

The two drove to a field on LeJeune Road and Northwest 128th Street, a popular lover’s lane and parked. They never returned. At 2 a.m., both families filed missing persons reports.

The next morning, Hialeah High’s custodian — riding on horseback — discovered Belinda’s body under an Australian pine tree. A quarter mile away, Brian’s body, a bullet in the head, was slumped over behind the wheel of his mother’s 1974 Pontiac LeMans.

The killer had chased Belinda from the car, raping her before shooting her. The murders rocked Hialeah, where a memorial drew more than 800 people.

Homicide detectives soon identified Ferguson. The Ruger .357 pistol used in the shooting had been stolen from the Carol City murder scene.

In April 1978, police found Ferguson in an Opa-locka apartment, with the same stolen Ruger pistol.

Unlike today, when Death Penalty cases can take years to go to trial, justice moved quickly for Ferguson. Within six months, he had been convicted by two different juries in the Carol City murders and the teens’ killings. He was sentenced to die in each.

“After the judge pronounced him guilty, I remember, he turned to me as though he was coming to get me,” former prosecutor Kaye said. “But he thrust his hand out, shook my hand said, ‘Good job counsel.’ He was a violent man. I didn’t think he had the character to do that.”

In 1982, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the death sentence saying the judge did not consider evidence of Ferguson’s mental illness. A year later, he was resentenced to death again.

In the ensuing decades, Ferguson’ lawyers have nevertheless sought to stave off execution by pointing to his mental state. Each appeal, including one Friday denied by a Bradford County judge, has failed.

“It is impossible to fathom that the State can constitutionally put to death a man who thinks he is the Prince of God and who believes he has a destiny of being the right hand of God and returning to purify earth,” lawyer Handman said.

Michael Worley, Belinda’s brother, called the decades-long legal fight a slap in the face.

“Outrageous is the fact that for 34 years, our tax dollars have been keeping Ferguson alive. Free food, medical care and the ability to communicate with his loved ones and lawyers,” he said. “My sister was brutally killed at the age of 17. Her murder shattered our entire family. Life was never the same.”