WASHINGTON, DC - Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump's administration carried out its last federal execution when Dustin John Higgs, convicted of kidnapping and murdering three women in 1996, was executed by lethal injection in the early hours of Saturday.
Higgs became the 13th and last federal death row inmate to be executed since the U.S. Justice Department restarted federal executions in July 2019, CNN reported.
Until his death, Higgs maintained his innocence, and the tone of his voice was calm but defiant as he said his final words, according to a pool report.
"I'd like to say I am an innocent man... I did not order the murders," he said while mentioning the three women by name.
The execution was carried out at the Federal Prisons death chamber at the United States Penitentiary, in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Higgs' victims were Tamika Black, 19; Tanji Jackson, 21; and Mishann Chinn, 23.
According to CNN, Higgs' execution went forward despite his attorney, Shawn Nolan's appeal to delay the proceeding because of Higgs' Covid-19 diagnosis. Nolan also argued that Higgs was unfairly sentenced since the actual gunman is serving a life sentence.
In January 1996, Higgs along with two friends drove to Washington DC to pick up Black, Jackson, and Chinn, whom Higgs had invited to his apartment in Laurel, Maryland, according to a Department of Justice statement.
At the apartment, Jackson rebuffed an advance by Higgs and the women left. Higgs offered the women a ride back to DC, but instead drove to a secluded area in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge.
He ordered the women out of the vehicle, gave a gun to one of the friends, and said, "better make sure they're dead." The other man shot Black and Jackson in the chest and back, and shot Chinn in the back of the head, killing all three women, CNN cited from the Justice Department statement.
Later in 2000, a Maryland jury 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, and unanimously recommended nine death sentences, which the court imposed, the statement said.
Multiple controversies surrounded Higgs's case, according to Wikipedia:
The first being that he was sentenced to death despite not personally shooting or killing any of the three women himself. The case against him was mainly built on the testimonies of Gloria and Haynes, who had both cut deals and reportedly changed their stories multiple times. The fact the murders were committed on federal land further complicated things. Higgs was tried by the federal government rather than by the state of Maryland. Had the murders occurred further down the road, the women would not have been killed on the Patuxent Research Refuge, and Higgs would have been tried by the state of Maryland instead of by the federal government. If he had been tried by the state of Maryland, based on state law, he would not have been eligible for the death penalty. The state of Maryland also abolished the death penalty in 2013, with all remaining death row inmates resentenced to life without parole.
In July 2019, then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr had resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus to "bring justice to victims of the most horrific crimes."
The federal government has authorized the executions of 13 federal death row inmates in about six months, CNN reported.
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty and to provide incentives to states for stopping death sentences as a part of his criminal justice plan.
Biden's campaign has actively spoken out against the death penalty, citing the amount of wrongfully convicted inmates who have been given these sentences. (ANI/Big News Network)
(File photo of the Federal prisons system's death chamber at Terre Haute in western Vigo County, near the Indiana/Illinois border in Indiana, 77 miles west of Indianapolis. Credit: Chuck Robinson | The Associated Press).