The federal judge who presided over Higgs’ trial two decades ago says he “deserves little compassion.”
“He received a fair trial and was found guilty and sentenced to death by a unanimous jury for a despicable crime,” wrote US District Judge Peter Messitte in a December 29 ruling.
Higgs would be the 13th and last federal prisoner to be executed since July, when Trump ended a 17-year hiatus in the federal death penalty.
Defense attorneys won a temporary stay of execution this week for Higgs and another inmate, Corey Johnson, after arguing that their recent COVID-19 infections put them at greater risk of suffering unnecessary suffering during lethal injections. But the higher courts overturned those decisions, allowing the executions to go ahead, and Johnson was executed Thursday night.
Shawn Nolan, one of Higgs’s lawyers, sees a clear political agenda in the unprecedented series of federal executions at the end of Trump’s presidency. Higgs is scheduled to be executed five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. A spokesman for Biden has said the Democrat is against the death penalty and will work to end its use.
“In the midst of the pandemic and everything that is happening right now in the country, it seems crazy to go ahead with these executions,” Nolan said recently. “And particularly for Dustin, who didn’t shoot anyone. He didn’t.” Don’t kill anyone. “
Higgs’ December 19 clemency petition says he has been a model prisoner and a devoted father to a son born shortly after his arrest. Higgs had a traumatic childhood and lost his mother to cancer when he was 10 years old, the petition says.
“Mr. Higgs’s difficult upbringing was not presented in a meaningful way to the jury at trial,” his attorneys wrote.
In October 2000, a federal jury in Maryland convicted Higgs of first degree murder and kidnapping in the murders of 19-year-old Tamika Black; Mishann Chinn. 2. 3; and Tanji Jackson, 21. His death sentence was the first imposed in the modern era of the Maryland federal system, which abolished the death penalty in 2013.
Higgs was 23 years old on the night of January 26, 1996, when he, Haynes, and a third man, Victor Gloria, picked up the three women in Washington, DC and took them to Higgs’s apartment in Laurel, Maryland, to drink alcohol. and listen to music. Before dawn the next morning, an argument between Higgs and Jackson led to her reaching for a knife in the kitchen before Haynes persuaded her to drop it.
Gloria said Jackson made threats as he left the apartment with the other women and appeared to write down the license plate number of Higgs’ truck, infuriating him. The three men chased after the women in the Higgs truck. Haynes convinced them to get in the vehicle.
Instead of taking them home, Higgs took them to a secluded location in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, a federal territory in Laurel.
“Aware at the time that something was wrong, one of the women asked if they were going to have to ‘walk from here’ and Higgs replied ‘something like that,'” said an appeals court ruling confirming the death sentence of Higgs.
Higgs handed his pistol to Haynes, who shot the three women outside the truck before the men left, Gloria testified.
“Gloria turned to ask Higgs what he was doing, but she saw Higgs holding the wheel and watching the gunshots from the rearview mirror,” said the 2013 ruling by a three-judge panel of the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Investigators found Jackson’s agenda at the scene of the murders. It contained Higgs’s nickname, “Bones,” his phone number, his address number, and the tag number for his truck.
The jurors who convicted Haynes did not reach a unanimous verdict on whether to impose a death sentence. Higgs was convicted by a different jury and his death sentence returned after a separate trial. Gloria pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the murders and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Higgs has argued that his death sentence should be overturned because jurors did not consider it a “mitigating factor” that Haynes was convicted on identical charges but sentenced to life in prison. The appeals court concluded that rational juries might find Higgs had the dominant role in the murders even though Haynes was unquestionably the trigger.
Inside America’s Chambers of Death
In her clemency petition, Higgs’ attorneys said Gloria received “substantial treatment” in exchange for her cooperation.
“Furthermore,” they wrote, “important questions remain as to whether Mr. Gloria received the undisclosed fringe benefit of having an unrelated state murder investigation against him at the insistence of federal officials to protect his credibility as a star witness. . A federal death verdict shouldn’t be based on such a flimsy foundation. “
Chinn worked with a boys’ choir at a church, Jackson worked in a high school office, and Black was a teacher’s aide at the National Presbyterian School in Washington, according to the Washington Post.
On the day in 2001 that the judge formally sentenced Higgs to death, Black’s mother, Joyce Gaston, said it brought her little comfort, the Post reported.
“It’s never going to be right in my mind,” Gaston said, “That was my daughter. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it. “