THE executions of two murderers have been delayed at the 11th hour after the Death Row inmates contracted Covid-19.
Cory Johnson was convicted of murdering seven people in 1992Credit: Richmond Police
Dustin John Higgs, 48, is on death row for a crime he is accused of committing in 1996Credit: savedustinjhiggs.com
But Judge Tanya Chutkan of the U.S. District Court in Washington today ordered a delay on the executions of both convicted murderers until at least March 16, in a move intended to allow them to recover from coronavirus infections.
The ruling, though likely to be challenged by the Justice Department, pushes the execution into the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who is due to take office on January 20 and opposes the death penalty.
Lawyers for Johnson, 52, and Higgs, 48, argued before Judge Tanya Chutkan of the U.S. District Court in Washington earlier this month that their damaged lung tissue would rupture more quickly after lethal doses of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, had been administered.
Some inmates on death row are executed via the electric chair
There could be a period of several minutes in which the men experience drowning as their lungs filled with bloody fluids a pulmonary edema before the drug rendered them insensate or killed them, the lawyers argued, calling it a form of torture.
“A person with COVID-19 related lung damage will experience flash pulmonary edema before the pentobarbital reaches the brain,” Chutkan wrote in her ruling on Tuesday. “Though the Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a painless death, it does prohibit needless suffering.”
She said a brief injunction delaying the executions would allow them to proceed in a more humane manner.
The judge also cited the possibility that individuals who participate in carrying out the execution may be exposed to COVID-19 as a result, increasing the likelihood of a spread through the facility.
“The court is deeply concerned that the government intends to to execute two prisoners who are suffering from COVID-19 infection, particularly given that the disease impacts individuals in drastically different ways and can have particularly devastating long-term effects, even for those with mild symptoms, Chutkan wrote.
“This is irresponsible at best, particularly when a temporary injunction will reduce these risks. The public interest is not served by executing individuals in this manner.”
Johnson’s execution was scheduled for January 14
Johnson has been sitting on death row in Terre Haute, Indiana for nearly 28 years after multiple murders in 1992.
He was convicted of killing seven people along with his partners who resided within the Richmond, Virginia area as part of a drug-trafficking operation.
The gang was known as the “Newtowne Gang” as they expanded their conspiracy operations to a town in Richmond of the same name.
The victims were brutally slain as they were thought to be suspects of treachery or “competitors” in the drug business.
Johnson shot one victim at close range after ordering him to place his head on a car steering wheel, according to the Justice department.
Johnson has been fighting coronavirus while in prison and is reportedly experiencing ‘debilitating symptoms
He shot and killed another victim at his home when he failed to pay for crack cocaine — and Johnson also murdered the victim’s sister and a male acquaintance.
In February 1993, a jury in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found Johnson guilty of numerous federal offenses, including seven counts of capital murder.
The jury unanimously recommended seven death sentences, which the court imposed.
Johnson’s lawyers claim he has been fighting coronavirus while in prison and has been experiencing “debilitating symptoms.”
Despite his circumstances, his lawyers claim that he has been a “model prisoner” and deserves to live out the rest of his sentence in jail.
In January 1996, Higgs and two friends drove from Washington, DC to Maryland to pick up Black, Jackson, and Chinn, whom Higgs had invited to his apartment in Laurel, Maryland.
Once at the apartment, Higgs made advances towards Jackson, which she rejected, and the girls ultimately all left together.
Higgs offered to take the women back to Washington DC, but instead drove them to a secluded area in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, ordered the women out of the vehicle, gave a gun to one of his friends, and said, “better make sure they’re dead.”
One of Higgs’ friends shot Black and Jackson in the chest and back, and then shot Chinn in the back of the head, killing all three women.
Higgs’ co-defendant, said in a sworn statement that Higgs “didn’t make me do anything that night or ever” yet prosecutors relied on a “highly suspect” witness who testified that Higgs ordered Haynes to shoot the women.
Higgs, now 48, is a father to son Da’Quan Darby, who was born shortly after his arrest.
“From a child to adulthood, my father was always there for me to confide in, to laugh with, to cry with, and even get upset with,” Darby wrote in a letter supporting the clemency application.
“But he was always there and has been my number one supporter, showed me what love is, and taught me to be a better man. I cannot imagine or think of where I could’ve ended up without the love and encouragement of my father.”
More to follow…
For the latest news on this story keep checking back at Sun Online.
The Sun is your go to destination for the best celebrity news, football news, real-life stories, jaw-dropping pictures and must-see video.