With five days left before President Donald Trump leaves office, the United States government is expected to execute Dustin Higgs on 15th January. The Trump administration has carried out an unprecedented number of federal executions after ending an informal 17-year moratorium on capital punishment. As a result, the Department of Justice announced plans last year to move ahead with six federal executions before the end of Trump’s presidency.
This week, Higgs is scheduled to be killed by the US federal government. More than 20 years ago, a Maryland jury found him guilty of 15 counts for the first-degree murder and kidnapping of Tamika Black, Mishann Chinn, and Tanji Jackson in 1996. The victims had been fatally shot after partying with Higgs and two of his friends, Willis Haynes, and Victor Gloria at Higgs’ apartment the night before the murder.
Though Higgs was convicted of overseeing the kidnapping and murder of the three women, there is no proof that he himself killed anyone — a fact no one has ever disputed, including both Haynes and Gloria, and prosecutors, New York Magazine reports. Higgs’ lawyers have argued that this fact alone should clear him for clemency.
The night before the murder and before the women left his apartment, Higgs and Jackson reportedly got into an argument. According to a report, Higgs and his friends had been drinking and Jackson had rebuffed an advance from Higgs. At the time, Gloria testified that Jackson had made a threat to Higgs, which prompted the men to follow them. He said that when they found the women, Haynes persuaded them to get into the van with the men who drove them into the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge. There, Gloria said Higgs handed a pistol to Haynes and instructed him to kill the women.
Haynes confessed to killing the women in a statement he gave to the FBI and the US Park Police at the time. While defence attorneys argued that Haynes acted out of fear of Higgs, in a 2012 affidavit, Haynes wrote, “the prosecution’s theory of our case was bullshit. Dustin didn’t threaten me. I was not scared of him. Dustin didn’t make me do anything that night or ever.” Haynes was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, with Higgs sentenced to the death penalty.
In just the last month, the Trump administration has carried out three federal executions of incarcerated people on death row. Forty-year-old Brandon Bernard was killed on 11th December 2020; 56-year-old Alfred Bourgeois was killed the next day; 52-year-old Lisa Montgomery was killed on 13th January 2021. This week, two more people will be executed by the State: 52-year-old Corey Johnson and 48-year-old Higgs, who were both diagnosed with COVID-19 last month are scheduled for lethal injection this week.
Higgs’s lawyers appealed his death sentence last month, stating that the state of Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013. They argued, “Federal law provides that a federal execution shall be carried out in accordance with the laws of the state in which the defendant was sentenced.”
Further, Judge Tanya Chutkan of the US district court on Tuesday ordered for both Higgs’ and Johnson’s executions to be delayed until March, arguing in accordance with medical experts that the coronavirus could cause the men undue suffering from lethal injections, according to The Guardian. Lawyers for both men also filed further petitions on Thursday asking for a rehearing en banc. In a statement, Shawn Nolan, a federal defender representing Higgs said, “We will ask the full court to step in to reinstate the stay, but it is time for the government to stop carrying out super-spreader executions.”
With few days left of his administration, Trump, a longtime advocate of the death penalty, is using his final days in office to cement his legacy as one of brutal violence against Black people.