STARKE, Fla. (AP) — A federal appeals court has blocked the scheduled execution of a mass killer convicted of eight slayings that jolted South Florida in the 1970s.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a last-minute request Tuesday night from attorneys for 64-year-old John Errol Ferguson, who has been on Florida's death row for 34 years. Ferguson's lawyers contend he should not be executed because he suffers from severe mental illness.

Florida officials immediately asked the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the stay. The justices earlier Tuesday turned aside another Ferguson appeal.

Ferguson was convicted of killing eight people in South Florida in 1977 and 1978, including a teenage couple, and was a prime suspect in another double slaying. He suffers from paranoid schizophrenia but has previously been ruled competent for execution.

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