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Sunday, 17 January 2021

'This is NOT justice': Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor slams Trump administration's federal execution 'spree' as convicted killer Dustin Higgs becomes the 13th put to death since July

 Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has slammed the Trump administration's federal execution spree saying 'this is not justice', as convicted killer Dustin Higgs became the 13th person put to death since July. 

Sotomayor issued a scathing written dissent Friday after the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of plowing ahead with Higgs' execution despite his lawyers pleaded for clemency after he caught COVID-19.  

Higgs, 48, was pronounced dead at 1.23am on Saturday after receiving a lethal injection of pentobarbital in the federal death chamber at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

Higgs conspired with two other men to kidnap and murder three young women in Washington DC on one night in January 1996.   

His federal execution marks the 13th and final to be completed by the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump after a 17-year hiatus.

Trump will go down in history as the most prolific modern president for carrying out death sentences as he rushed through the death sentences in his final six months in power.  

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (above) has slammed the Trump administration's federal execution spree saying 'this is not justice', as convicted killer Dustin Higgs became the 13th person put to death since July

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (above) has slammed the Trump administration's federal execution spree saying 'this is not justice', as convicted killer Dustin Higgs became the 13th person put to death since July

Sotomayor, who dissented the Supreme Court majority's decision along with Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, wrote a dissent where she blasted the Trump administration for executing 'more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades.' 

'After seventeen years without a single federal execution, the Government has executed twelve people since July,' she wrote. 

'They are Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, Lezmond Mitchell, Keith Nelson, William LeCroy Jr., Christopher Vialva, Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard, Alfred Bourgeois, Lisa Montgomery, and, just last night, Corey Johnson.'


'Today, Dustin Higgs will become the thirteenth,' she said. 

Sotomayer hit out at the Department of Justice saying it 'did not tread carefully' and had created 'legal uncertainty'.

She also criticized her fellow justices on the Supreme Court who, through rulings such as Higgs', have enabled the 'spree of executions'.  

'Throughout this expedited spree of executions, this Court has consistently rejected inmates' credible claims for relief,' Sotomayor wrote. 

Higgs, 48, was pronounced dead at 1.23am on Saturday after receiving a lethal injection of pentobarbital in the federal death chamber at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana

Higgs, 48, was pronounced dead at 1.23am on Saturday after receiving a lethal injection of pentobarbital in the federal death chamber at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana

She said her colleagues had lifted stays of execution and made 'weighty decisions' without time for 'proper briefing and consideration'. 

'The Court has even intervened to lift stays of execution that lower courts put in place, thereby ensuring those prisoners' challenges would never receive a meaningful airing,' she wrote.

'The Court made these weighty decisions in response to emergency applications, with little opportunity for proper briefing and consideration, often in just a few short days or even hours.

'Very few of these decisions offered any public explanation for their rationale.'

She added: 'This is not justice.'   

Higgs' was the 13th federal execution under Trump's watch

Higgs' was the 13th federal execution under Trump's watch 

Higgs was executed soon after the court's ruling.  

In his final words, Higgs protested that he was innocent of masterminding the murders. 

'I'd like to say I am an innocent man,' he said, strapped to the gurney in the execution chamber. 'I did not order the murders.'

As the injection was administered, loud sobs of a woman crying inconsolably echoed for several minutes from a room reserved for Higgs' family, as his eyes rolled back in his head, showing the whites of his eyes before he stopped moving entirely.

It marked the third federal execution at Terre Haute in four days, and the 13th during Trump's term after he resumed executions in July despite the pandemic, making him the most prolific president in carrying out death sentences since Grover Cleveland in the 1800s. 

Higgs' lawyers argued it was 'arbitrary and inequitable' to execute him while Willis Haynes, the man who pulled the trigger in the murders, was spared a death sentence. 

Higgs and an inmate executed on Thursday, Corey Johnson, both had COVID-19 last month.

Higgs is seen in 2015 at the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Higgs is the last federal inmate to be executed before President Donald Trump leaves office

Higgs is seen in 2015 at the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Higgs is the last federal inmate to be executed before President Donald Trump leaves office

The United States Penitentiary at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana is seen on Friday

The United States Penitentiary at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana is seen on Friday

The recent spree of executions is also the first time since Celveland's term that a federal execution was carried out during the lame-duck period of a presidency. 

Trump resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus, although they had still been carried out at the state level. 

President-elect Joe Biden is an opponent of the death penalty and is expected to suspend federal executions when he takes office next week. 

The federal judge who presided over Higgs' trial two decades ago says he 'merits little compassion.'

Alfred Bourgeois
Lisa Marie Montgomery
Corey Johnson

Executed (left to right): Alfred Bourgeois, Lisa Marie Montgomery, Corey Johnson

Daniel Lewis Lee
Wesley Ira Purkey
Dustin Lee Honken

Executed in July were (left to right): Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, and Dustin Lee Honken. Lee's execution was the first federal execution in 17 years

Kim Kardashian hits out at the execution of Brandon Bernard
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'He received a fair trial and was convicted and sentenced to death by a unanimous jury for a despicable crime,' U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte wrote in a December 29 ruling.

Defense attorneys won temporary stays of execution this week for Higgs and Johnson after arguing that their recent COVID-19 infections put them at greater risk of unnecessary suffering during the lethal injections. 

But higher courts overruled those decisions, allowing the executions to go forward, and Johnson was executed Thursday night. 

Shawn Nolan, one of Higgs' attorneys, sees a clear political agenda in the unprecedented string of federal executions at the end of Trump's presidency, with Higgs heading to the death chamber just five days before Biden's inauguration. 

An activist in opposition to the death penalty protests during a snowstorm outside of the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana on Thursday

An activist in opposition to the death penalty protests during a snowstorm outside of the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana on Thursday

Trump has overseen 13 executions after he resumed executions in July despite the pandemic, making him the most prolific president in carrying out death sentences since Grover Cleveland

Trump has overseen 13 executions after he resumed executions in July despite the pandemic, making him the most prolific president in carrying out death sentences since Grover Cleveland

'In the midst of the pandemic and everything that´s going on right now in the country, it seems just insane to move forward with these executions,' Nolan said recently. 'And particularly for Dustin, who didn't shoot anybody. He didn't kill anybody.'

Higgs' December 19 petition for clemency says he has been a model prisoner and dedicated father to a son born shortly after his arrest. Higgs had a traumatic childhood and lost his mother to cancer when he was 10, the petition says.

'Mr. Higgs' difficult upbringing was not meaningfully presented to the jury at trial,' his attorneys wrote. 

His death sentence was the first imposed in the modern era of the federal system in Maryland, which abolished the death penalty in 2013. 

The interior of the execution chamber in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute is seen above. Higgs was strapped to the gurney and injected with pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate

The interior of the execution chamber in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute is seen above. Higgs was strapped to the gurney and injected with pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate

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