Dustin Higgs becomes 13th federal inmate executed since July

Dustin Higgs becomes 13th federal inmate executed since July
Dustin Higgs became the 13th federal prisoner since July and the third this week to be executed by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A man convicted of a 1996 triple murder in Maryland was executed by lethal injection early Saturday, becoming the 13th federal inmate since July and the third this week to be put to death.

Dustin John Higgs, 48, was convicted in October 2000 for the January 1996 murders of Tamika Black, 19; Tanji Jackson, 21; and Mishann Chinn, 23, in Prince Georges County, according to a news release from the Department of Justice. He was put to death at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, according to The Associated Press.

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Higgs was administered the lethal injection at about 1 a.m. ET and was pronounced dead at 1:23, WTHI reported.

In his final statement, Higgs mentioned his victims by name, according to the AP.

“I’d like to say I am an innocent man,” Higgs said. “I did not order the murders.”

By a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Higgs’ execution by denying a stay late Friday.

Higgs became the final federal prisoner under the Trump administration to be put to death since executions were resumed after a 17-year hiatus. The 13 executions during the administration of Donald Trump were the most by a president in more than 120 years, according to The Associated Press.

Corey Johnson, 52, a former drug trafficker who was convicted of capital murder in the 1992 slayings of seven people in Virginia, was executed late Thursday. Early Wednesday, Lisa Montgomery, 52, became the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953 when she was put to death by lethal injection. Montgomery was convicted in October 2007 of one count of kidnapping resulting in the death of a pregnant woman.

Higgs, along with Johnson, both tested positive for COVID-19 before their executions. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a delay granted by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., The Baltimore Sun reported.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan delayed the executions of Higgs and Johnson until at least March 16, the newspaper reported. Chutkan said the men’s diagnoses of COVID-19 might cause undue suffering when the lethal injection was administered, violating the prisoners’ constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

On Wednesday night, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals rejected the delay and ordered the execution to go forward as scheduled, the Sun reported. The ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court Thursday.

“Dustin Higgs contracted COVID-19 because of the government’s irresponsible actions in carrying out executions during the pandemic, and his lungs are still damaged as a result of the infection,” Higgs’ public defender, Shawn Nolan, said in a statement on Thursday.

On Jan. 27, 1996, Jackson, Chinn and Black were found shot to death along a desolate stretch of Route 197 in the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the Sun reported.

According to trial testimony, the three women had been at Higgs’ apartment in Laurel when a dispute arose, the newspaper reported. The women left but accepted what they thought would be a ride home with Higgs and two other men. Instead, they were driven to the isolated area and Higgs gave a gun to Willis Haynes and told him to “make sure they’re all dead.”

Haynes was convicted in the murders and sentenced to life in prison, the Sun reported.

On Oct. 11, 2000, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland found Higgs guilty of numerous federal offenses, including three counts of first-degree premeditated murder, three counts of first-degree felony murder, and three counts of kidnapping resulting in death, the Department of Justice said in its news release. The jury unanimously recommended nine death sentences, which the court imposed. Higgs’ convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal nearly 17 years ago, and his initial round of collateral challenges failed nearly eight years ago, according to the Department of Justice.

The other federal inmates executed since July include Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, Lezmond Mitchell, Keith Nelson, William LeCroy Jr., Christopher Vialva, Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard and Alfred Bourgeois.

The last time there were double-digit federal executions in one year was 1896, the final full year of President Grover Cleveland’s second term.