A panel of federal judges has ordered that Dustin Higgs, 48, convicted in a Maryland triple murder in 1996, be executed as scheduled on Friday, which would make him the last federal inmate to be put to death under President Donald Trump as he leaves office, the Baltimore Sun reports. Higgs’ lawyers challenged the decision on Thursday among what is likely to be a series of last-minute appeals over the scheduled executions of Higgs and another federal inmate, Cory Johnson, 52, convicted of drug-related murders in Virginia. Higgs and Johnson had won a delay in their executions on Tuesday when a federal judge in Washington, D.C., agreed with their attorneys that their recent diagnoses of COVID-19 made them more vulnerable to suffering waterboard-like pain when the lethal injection is administered and before it kills them. Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered their executions delayed until March 16.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys quickly appealed, and two appellate judges, Gregory Katsas and Justin Walker, ordered the delay lifted, over the dissent of their colleague Cornelia Pillard. Johnson was scheduled to be executed on Thursday, followed by Higgs on Friday. They would be the 12th and 13th killed since the Trump administration resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus. Early Wednesday morning, after a similar flurry of last-minute appeals, Lisa Montgomery, 52, was executed, the first woman to be put to death federally since the 1950s. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the turmoil as it has created outbreaks in prisons such as the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, In., site of the federal death row, and many of those involved in the executions have contracted the disease. “It is time for the government to stop carrying out super-spreader executions,” said Higgs’ public defender, Shawn Nolan.