Two death row inmates to be executed by Trump administration test positive for Covid

Lawyers raise concerns that being sick with virus will impede their ability to advise their clients

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Friday 18 December 2020 21:58 GMT

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Two of the three federal inmates scheduled to be put to death in the last weeks of the Trump Administration have tested positive for Covid-19.

The diagnosis of Corey Johnson, who was convicted of killing seven people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, comes a day after attorneys for Dustin Higgs confirmed he tested positive at the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where both men are on death row.

The condemned men, and a third inmate, Lisa Montgomery, are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Lawyers for all three inmates had raised concerns that their clients could contract the coronavirus resulting in complex health issues ahead of execution.

Montgomery’s execution was delayed from 8 December after her lawyers contracted Covid-19.

Johnson’s lawyers, Donald Salzman and Ronald Tabak, have called on federal authorities to strike their client’s current execution date of 14 January.

They say that the virus will make visiting and advising their client difficult in the crucial days ahead of his scheduled execution.

Johnson’s lawyers argue: “The widespread outbreak on the federal death row only confirms the reckless disregard for the lives and safety of staff, prisoners, and attorneys alike.”

The scheduled execution date for Higgs is 15 January, and for Montgomery it is 12 January.

Montgomery is being held at a women’s prison in Texas, but will be transferred to Terre Haute to be executed.

As of Thursday there were more than 300 inmates with confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the federal facility in Indiana. The Bureau of Prisons told the Associated Press that “many of these inmates are asymptomatic or exhibiting mild symptoms”.

Prisons have seen terrible coronavirus outbreaks since early on in the pandemic. Having hundreds of people confined in close quarters in a contained environment has allowed for almost uncontained spread once the virus is introduced.

According to prosecutors, Johnson was one of three crack cocaine dealers who carried out a string of murders. They say he killed seven people in 1992 in an attempt to expand the territory of a Richmond, Virginia, gang.

His legal team has argued that he is intellectually disabled, with a far-below average IQ, and therefore ineligible for the death penalty.

Higgs was convicted of ordering the 1996 murders of three women in Maryland. He and two others abducted them after one rebuffed Higgs’ advances at a party.

Montgomery would be the first woman executed by the federal government since the 1950s, and the fourth woman ever.

She was convicted of using a rope to strangle a pregnant woman in 2004 and then using a kitchen knife to cut the baby girl from the womb.

Before July 2020 there hadn’t been a federal execution for 17 years. The Trump administration has executed 10 people since then.

With reporting from The Associated Press

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