TERRE HAUTE, IND – The Trump Administration executed its thirteenth and final inmate early Saturday morning for his role in the killing of three women on the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland, which is federal property. The mere location of the crime resulted in the murders becoming a federal case, instead of being overseen by the state of Maryland.
The inmate in question was Dustin John Higgs, 48, born in Poughkeepsie, New York.
What happened in 1996 is widely speculative. Two distinctly different versions of Higgs are portrayed by both the prosecution and Higgs lawyers. The federal government says Higgs bullied his co-conspirator into killing three women for turning down his sexual advances. Higgs’ legal team says he was merely a driver and witness.
The only paralell in the depictions is that three women died – and Higgs was driving them.
Higgs was pronounced dead at 1:23 AM. He, like Corey Johnson, previously had his execution stayed until March. That order was vacated by the Supreme Court.
Lawyers have previously argued that Pentobarbital, the drug used in lethal injection, can cause flash pulmonary edema, where fluid rapidly fills the lungs and creates a sensation akin to drowning. Media witnesses have reported ‘heaving’ of victims stomachs, as well as gasping and writhing. Higgs’ legal team claimed fluid would fill his COVID-19 damaged lungs while he was still conscious.
In the weeks before Higgs’ execution was scheduled to take place, doubts surrounding his guilt began to grow, culminating in the form of petitions and fliers – which quickly spread online. An Instagram page dedicated to his innocence gained a following of over 20,000 people.
Activists point out numerous compelling facts from Higgs case, such as the fact that he wasn’t the trigger man, as well as a signed affidavit from Willis Haynes, Higgs’ white co-defendant, confessing to committing the murders on his own accord. Haynes described the prosecution’s theory of the case as “bullshit,” and stated that Higgs didn’t force him to do anything.
Haynes testimony changed often, as well as Victor Gloria’s. Gloria once testified that he was asleep in the backseat, and woke up to gunshots. Later, he said he witnessed Higgs give Haynes the gun, and grip the steering wheel of his van as he watched the murders through the rear-view mirror.
Federal prosecutors say Higgs became enraged after a woman visiting his apartment with three of friends denied his sexual advances. They say Willis Haynes lured them into Higgs’ van as he drove the three women, along with his two male friends, to the Pauxtent Wildlife Refuge, ordering Haynes to get out of the car and “make sure they’re dead.”
Gloria plead guilty to an accessory charge and cut a deal for 7 years in exchange for his testimony against both men. Haynes was sentenced to life without parole, while Higgs was sentenced to die.
A website created in support of Higgs details an elaborate scheme by prosecutors to frame the man, including theories such as ‘Junk Science’ and ‘Pressure and Threats’.
Four hours with barely any changes or movement from media witnesses went by before Higgs’ last stay of execution in the Fourth Circuit was lifted by the US Supreme Court, clearing the way for his execution at around 11:00 P.M, EST. The court decided on a 6-3 vote, with Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan all dissenting.
Higgs’ last words came in the form as a proclamation of his innocence, which he maintained up until the very end.
“I am an innocent man, I did not order the murders.” he said.
Soon, uncontrollable crying would echo through the chamber, coming from a room reserved for Higgs’ family. His eyes rolled back into his head as Pentobarbital flowed through his veins. The whites of his eyes showed, and he would lie on the gurney, motionless.
Justice Sotomayor made her thoughts clear. She wrote “This is not justice. … I dissent.”, citing Trump’s quick, unprecedented spree of federal executions – one of the most prolific execution regimes of all time.
After his execution was cleared to proceed, Anti-Death-Penalty activists on Twitter began to express their disgust with the Supreme Court’s decision.
One activist wrote “This cannot go on.” upon reading a chilling statistic from Trump’s execution spree, which I pointed out:
“There have been more federal executions in the past 6 months than there were in the past 6 decades.
The latest victim: Dustin Higgs.”
SOURCE: United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Dustin John Higgs, Defendant-appellant, 353 F.3d 281 (4th Cir. 2003), The Guardian, Associated Press, Family Of Dustin Higgs, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, YAHOO NEWS