Higgs was pronounced dead at 1:23 a.m., becoming the 13th federal prisoner put to death under Trump since July and the third execution this week. The 48-year-old father was convicted in connection with the 1996 kidnapping and murder of three women in Maryland: Tamika Black, 19, Mishann Chinn, 23, and Tanji Jackson, 21.
Even in his final days, Higgs and his defense team maintained his innocence and argued that his execution could violate federal law. As NBC reports, the Supreme Court allowed the execution to move forward Friday night after vacating a stay.
“After seventeen years without a single federal execution, the Government has executed twelve people since July,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting opinion. Since the summer, the Trump administration has executed more federal prisoners than in the past 56 years combined.
“Today, Dustin Higgs will become the thirteenth," she continued. “To put that in historical context, the Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades.”
At the time of his arrest, investigators accused Higgs of pressuring his co-defendant Willis Haynes to shoot the three women. Those allegations stemmed from testimony by a third associate, Victor Gloria. Gloria, who was also facing federal drug charges, took a lesser sentence in exchange for the testimony, though his multiple statements to police and prosecutors were inconsistent.
In a petition arguing against Higgs' death sentence, his legal team also pointed to the fact that Haynes, who was convicted of shooting the women, was spared the death penalty and instead was given a life sentence.
Higgs first cousin Alexa Cave Wingate, who grew up with him and is like a sister, told the Intercept she was suspicious of the charges immediately.
“I remember him saying, ‘You know I didn’t,’” she told reporter Liliana Segura. “And I said, ‘You don’t even have to finish that sentence. I know you didn’t.’”
The prosecution against Higgs came in the wake of the 1994 Crime Bill, which prompted federal prosecutors to look for cases that could warrant the federal death penalty.
The death penalty is fundamentally a poor person’s issue. Over nearly 40 years of visiting death row facilities across the United States, I have never met a single person with money or resources. Capital punishment means “those without the capital get the punishment.”
— Sister Helen Prejean (@helenprejean) January 16, 2021
Higgs was convicted on October 11, 2000. Higgs became a father shortly after his arrest, and his defense team argued that he was a “model prisoner and dedicated father” for the past two decades behind bars. For the first time in 20 years due to her restricted finances, Wingate was finally able to visit her brother in the Terre Haute facility ahead of his execution.
“When my brother came home from the hospital, I was the first face he saw when he opened his eyes when my aunt laid him on the couch,” she told the Intercept. “So I want to be the last face he sees before he leaves.”
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