The execution early Saturday of Dustin Higgs concludes an unprecedented run of executions since July, when Trump resumed the federal dying penalty after 17-years.
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The Trump administration early Saturday carried out its 13th federal execution since July, an unprecedented run that concluded simply 5 days earlier than the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden — an opponent of the federal dying penalty.
Dustin Higgs, convicted of ordering the killings of three girls in a Maryland wildlife refuge in 1996, was the third to obtain a deadly injection this week on the federal jail in Terre Haute, Indiana.
President Donald Trump’s Justice Division resumed federal executions final yr following a 17-year hiatus. No president in additional than 120 years had overseen as many federal executions.
Higgs, 48, was pronounced useless at 1:23 a.m. Requested if he had any final phrases, Higgs was calm however defiant, naming every of the ladies prosecutors stated he ordered killed.
“I’d prefer to say I’m an harmless man. … I’m not accountable for the deaths,” he stated softly. “I didn’t order the murders.”
He didn’t apologize for something he did on the night time 25 years in the past when the ladies had been shot by one other man, who acquired a life sentence.
Because the deadly injection of pentobarbital started to movement into his veins, Higgs regarded towards a room reserved for his kin and attorneys. He waved together with his fingers and stated, “I really like you.”
Louds sobs of a lady crying inconsolably started to echo from the witness room reserved for Higgs’ household as his eyes rolled again in his head, displaying the whites of his eyes. He shortly turned nonetheless, his pupils seen together with his eyelids left partially open.
A sister of Tanji Jackson — one of many murdered girls who was 21 when she died — addressed a written assertion to Higgs after his execution and mentioning his household.
“They’re now going to undergo the ache we skilled,” she stated. “When the day is over, your dying won’t convey my sister and the opposite victims again. This isn’t closure.” The assertion did not embrace the sister’s identify.
The variety of federal dying sentences carried out below Trump since 2020 is greater than within the earlier 56 years mixed, decreasing the variety of prisoners on federal dying row by almost 1 / 4. It’s probably not one of the round 50 remaining males can be executed anytime quickly, if ever, with Biden signaling he’ll finish federal executions.
The one lady on dying row, Lisa Montgomery, was executed Wednesday for killing a pregnant lady, then chopping the infant out of her womb. She was the primary lady executed in almost 70 years.
Federal executions started because the coronavirus pandemic raged by way of prisons nationwide. Amongst these prisoners who acquired COVID-19 final month had been Higgs and former drug trafficker Corey Johnson, who was executed Thursday.
Within the early Saturday execution of Higgs, officers contained in the execution chamber had been extra diligent about their retaining masks on after a federal choose expressed concern that officers at Johnson’s execution had been lax about coronavirus precautions. When a marshal referred to as from a death-chamber telephone to ask if there have been any impediments to continuing with Higgs’ execution, he saved his masks on and shoved the receiver below it.
Not because the waning days of Grover Cleveland’s presidency within the late 1800s has the U.S. authorities executed federal inmates throughout a presidential transition, in response to the Dying Penalty Data Heart. Cleveland’s was additionally the final presidency throughout which the variety of civilians executed federally was within the double digits in a single yr, 1896.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Submit earlier this week, Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, famous that Higgs, a Black man, was scheduled to die Friday — his father’s birthday. With last-minute appeals, it was delayed into early Saturday.
“The federal authorities shouldn’t be needlessly taking extra Black lives, and to take action on my father’s birthday can be shameful,” he wrote.
Strain is already constructing on Biden to observe by way of on pledges to finish the federal dying penalty. The ACLU launched an announcement after Higgs’ execution urging Biden to invoke his presidential powers after he’s sworn in.
“He should commute the sentences of individuals on the federal dying row to life with out parole, and he should drop dying from all pending trials,” the ACLU stated.
In 2000, a federal jury in Maryland convicted Higgs of homicide and kidnapping within the killings of Tamika Black, 19; Mishann Chinn, 23; and Tanji Jackson.
Higgs’ attorneys argued it was “arbitrary and inequitable” to execute Higgs whereas Willis Haynes, the person who fired the photographs that killed the ladies, was spared a dying sentence.
In an announcement after the execution, Higgs’ legal professional, Shawn Nolan, stated his shopper had spent many years on dying row serving to different inmates.
“There was no purpose to kill him, significantly throughout the pandemic and when he, himself, was sick with Covid that he contracted due to these irresponsible, super-spreader executions,” Nolan stated.
Higgs had a traumatic childhood and misplaced his mom to most cancers when he was 10, Higgs’ Dec. 19 petition for clemency petition stated.
Higgs was 23 on the night of Jan. 26, 1996, when he, Haynes and a 3rd man, Victor Gloria, picked up the three girls in Washington, D.C., and drove them to Higgs’ residence in Laurel, Maryland, to drink alcohol and take heed to music. Earlier than daybreak, an argument between Higgs and Jackson prompted her to seize a knife within the kitchen earlier than Haynes persuaded her to drop it.
Gloria stated Jackson made threats as she left the residence with the opposite girls and appeared to jot down down the license plate variety of Higgs’ van, angering him. The three males chased after the ladies in Higgs’ van. Haynes persuaded them to get into the automobile.
As a substitute of taking them dwelling, Higgs drove them to a secluded spot within the Patuxent Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, federal land in Laurel.
“Conscious at that time that one thing was amiss, one of many girls requested in the event that they had been going to must ‘stroll from right here’ and Higgs responded ‘one thing like that,’” in response to court docket paperwork.
Higgs handed his pistol to Haynes, who shot all three girls exterior the van, Gloria testified.
“Gloria turned to ask Higgs what he was doing, however noticed Higgs holding the steering wheel and watching the shootings from the rearview mirror,” stated the 2013 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Courtroom of Appeals.
Chinn labored with the kids’s choir at a church, Jackson labored within the workplace at a highschool and Black was a instructor’s aide at Nationwide Presbyterian College in Washington, in response to The Washington Submit.
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This story has been corrected to replicate the execution happening early Saturday.
Kunzelman reported from Faculty Park, Maryland.