Curtain closes on federal executions

Shortly before 1:30 this morning, the 13th federal inmate in the past seven months was put to death at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Dustin Higgs died by lethal injection for ordering the murder of three women in Maryland roughly 25 years ago. Higgs’ execution was the third one this week. Based on promises made by Joe Biden during his presidential campaign and pending legislation being drafted by congressional Democrats, this was very likely the last federal execution we will see for quite some time to come. Members of both Higgs’ family and the families of his victims were present when the sentence was carried out. Higgs’ execution followed that of a mass killer and drug trafficker named Corey Johnson by barely a day. (Associated Press)

The Trump administration early Saturday carried out its 13th federal execution since July, an unprecedented run that concluded just five days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden — an opponent of the federal death penalty.

Dustin Higgs, convicted of ordering the killings of three women in a Maryland wildlife refuge in 1996, was the third to receive a lethal injection this week at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

President Donald Trump’s Justice Department resumed federal executions last year following a 17-year hiatus. No president in more than 120 years had overseen as many federal executions.

Much like the execution of Lisa Montgomery on Tuesday, Higgs’ departure from the land of the living appeared to go smoothly. Witnesses described his eyes “rolling back in his head” before falling silent and expiring without any visible signs of distress. As with those who went before him, I will simply note that Dustin Higgs’ death was far more peaceful than the three women he ordered to be executed in a Maryland wildlife refuge in January of 1996.

Higgs remained defiant to the end. When asked if he had any final words, unlike Montgomery, he continued to insist that he did not order the executions and that he was innocent. Both the physical evidence from the scene and the testimony of his henchman who pulled the trigger said otherwise, and he failed to convince the initial jury and the officials who heard his appeals.

As for the remaining men on death row, slightly more than fifty of them, it’s looking increasingly as if they will never have their sentences carried out. Even if the Democrats fail to pass legislation to officially halt all federal executions, as president, Joe Biden can control this situation strictly by executive fiat. He simply needs to instruct his new Attorney General not to pursue any more executions and commute the sentences of all the remaining convicts to life without parole.

I won’t bother going through my own reasons for supporting capital punishment for the worst offenders if all possible precautions are taken to ensure that no innocent people are executed. I went through them all earlier this week if want to read them. Instead, I thought we might look at a few of the remaining killers whose lives will almost certainly be spared thanks to Uncle Joe’s generosity.

At the top of the list (possibly) is the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev is listed as a “maybe” because an appeals court vacated his death sentence last year. But that case is still making its way through the process and capital punishment could still wind up back on the table. Do we really need to talk any more about the evil of the Boston Marathon bomber? Could Joe Biden really commute his sentence with a clean conscience?

Next on the list is Dylann Roof. As I’m sure you will recall, Roof entered a historically Black church in South Carolina in 2017 and proceeded to shoot as many Black parishioners as he could find, killing nine of them. There is zero doubt about his guilt and he never even denied it, saying he was attempting to start a race war. Surely, even among liberal opponents of the death penalty and particularly supporters of BLM, there must be some who would make an exception in this freak’s case.

How about Joseph Duncan? This serial killer murdered seven people, including one of the many children that he raped over his long “career.” If there are actual faces of evil walking the land in America, Duncan has to be one of them.

Kenneth Eugene Barrett, Anthony Battle, and Daryl Lawrence were all convicted of murdering law enforcement officers in the line of duty. The list goes on. (You can read the full list here.) It’s a true hall of fame in terms of the worst of the worst. But if Joe Biden carries through on his promise, all of them will live out their lives on the taxpayer’s dime, just as Charles Manson did after the death penalty was temporarily rejected in California in the 1970s and his sentence was similarly commuted. Does Joe Biden consider that justice?

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