Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The last federal death row inmate scheduled to be executed by the Trump administration is awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court review of his case to learn if he'll be put to death Friday.
Dustin Higgs, 55, is set to receive a lethal injection Friday evening at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., for the 1996 murders of three women in Maryland.
He received a stay of execution Wednesday from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after his attorneys argued that the U.S. government violated the Federal Death Penalty Act when it issued notice of his execution. The FDPA requires that death sentences be implemented according to the state where the inmate was convicted -- in this case, Maryland, which has abolished the death penalty since Higgs' sentencing.
The Justice Department appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, saying the FDPA requirement is faulty because the federal government wouldn't be able to carry out death sentences for inmates where the death penalty is later abolished.
Higgs' lawyers are also awaiting a ruling in district court in Indiana on a separate stay request related to allegations the government withheld evidence and that Higgs' indictment failed to charge a capital offense.
And in a third case, the Supreme Court earlier this week denied a stay application filed for Higgs and fellow death row inmate Corey Johnson related to their December COVID-19 diagnoses. Their lawyers asked for relief, saying the effects of the pentobarbital used in federal executions could cause flash pulmonary edema due to the damage their lungs received from the virus.
The government described the defense attorneys' concerns about the possible effects of pentobarbital as "speculative" and "therefore falls far short of the 'exceedingly high bar' for last-minute injunctive relief."
The government executed Johnson on Thursday.
Higgs and an accomplice, Willis Haynes, were convicted in 2001 of the murders of Tanji Jackson, Tamika Black and Mishann Chinn.
The U.S. Justice Department said Higgs had invited the three women over to his Maryland apartment with Haynes and a third man. Prosecutors said that after Jackson rebuffed an advance by Higgs, he offered to drive the three women back to Washington, D.C.
Instead, prosecutors said he drove the women to a secluded area in Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in St. George's County, Md., and told Haynes to shoot them. All three women died of gunshot wounds.
Higgs' defense team called their client's death sentence "arbitrary and inequitable" because Haynes, who pulled the trigger, was spared the death penalty and received life in prison.
If executed Friday, Higgs will be the third person put to death this year and 13th put to death by the Trump administration.
The administration carried out six executions after Joe Biden was elected president. Prior to that, a lame-duck president hadn't executed any federal death row inmates since the 1880s under President Grover Cleveland.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, described the last several months as "a historically aberrational execution spree by the presidential administration that showed no regard for the rule of law."