By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida's governor on Wednesday asked a panel of psychiatrists to determine whether a convicted murderer scheduled to be executed next month understands why he has been sentenced to death.
Governor Rick Scott ordered the October 16 execution of John Errol Ferguson be put on hold and agreed to let a three-doctor panel decide if the death row inmate is sane and aware he is about to be executed by lethal injection.
In an executive order, Scott called for the doctors to convene on October 1 to exam Ferguson, who was sentenced to death for the murders of eight people more than three decades ago.
If found to be sane, Ferguson will be executed as planned at a Florida state prison.
However, if the doctors determine he does not understand the death penalty and why it has been imposed, Scott will decide if Ferguson will be committed to a state-run mental health treatment facility until "he has been restored to sanity and the sentence of death may be executed," according to the order.
Ferguson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for a pair of killing sprees. In 1977, he killed six people execution-style during a home-invasion robbery. He was also convicted a year later in the killing of two teenagers.
His attorneys have repeatedly argued that he was insane at the time of the murders, an argument the courts have rejected throughout his appeals.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Eric Beech)