The Trump administration executed Corey Johnson on Thursday night, after the Supreme Court lifted stays on both Johnson's execution and another one scheduled for Friday. Both Johnson and the other inmate, Dustin Higgs, tested positive for COVID-19, and their lawyers had argued that the execution drug pentobarbital would cause excruciating pain on the COVID-infected lungs. Johnson's lawyers also pointed to evidence that he was severely mentally disabled. The court's three liberal justices voted to halt the execution.
Johnson was convicted of killing seven people in a bloody 1992 drug war in Richmond, Virginia. He was pronounced dead at 11:34 p.m., The Associated Press reports, and reporters heard clapping and whistling from a room reserved for the relatives of his victims. What sounded like praying was heard in a room for Johnson's family members. His last words, aimed in their direction, were "love you." He apologized to his victims and their families in a separate statement.
Johnson is the 12th federal inmate put to death since President Trump and former Attorney General William Barr ended a 17-year halt on federal capital punishment in July. President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated in less than a week, is opposed to capital punishment and has pledged to reinstate the moratorium.
Higgs' fate is still up in the air due to another legal dispute involving a federal law that requires inmates to be executed using the techniques approved in the states where they were sentenced. Maryland, which convicted Higgs in 2000 for the 1996 killings of Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson, and Mishann Chinn, abolished the death penalty in 2013. An appellate court has scheduled a hearing to consider the legal quandary for Jan. 27, a week after Biden is sworn in. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to step in and overrule that court so Trump can get his 13th and final execution.