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As Maryland man is put to death, unprecedented string of Trump-era federal executions ends

Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE — Dustin John Higgs, who was convicted of murdering three women in Prince George’s County in 1996, was executed early Saturday morning, the 13th federal inmate put to death in six months by the outgoing Trump administration.

After a U.S. Supreme Court order Friday night lifted a stay on his execution, Higgs, 48, became the final inmate put to death under Trump since his administration resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus.

“The government completed its unprecedented slaughter of 13 human beings tonight,” said Shawn Nolan, the public defender who represented Higgs.

Calling him “a fine man, a terrific father, brother and nephew,” Nolan said there was no reason to kill him, a Black man, and particularly on Martin Luther King’s birthday, which was Friday. After delays, Higgs was actually executed Saturday, when he was pronounced dead at 1:23 a.m., according to the Associated Press.

“Shame on all of those involved,” Nolan said.

Unlike the two executions that preceded Higgs’ on Wednesday and Thursday, the high court handed down not just a brief order, but one with two strongly worded dissents by justices who denounced the number of inmates who had been put to death in such a compressed time frame.

 

“After seventeen years without a single federal execution, the Government has executed twelve people since July,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in advance of Higgs’ execution. “To put that in historical context, the Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades.

“Throughout this expedited spree of executions, this Court has consistently rejected inmates’ credible claims for relief,” she wrote. “This is not justice.”

Justice Stephen Breyer decried the number of complex issues surrounding the death penalty that the court has faced, leaving inmates on death row for decades in some cases even as there is pressure to carry out their sentences.

“Higgs’ case illustrates this dilemma,” wrote Breyer, noting challenges based on such new issues as his recent diagnosis of COVID-19. “Yet to consider these questions ... takes time.

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