U.S. News

DOJ schedules 3 more executions before Biden inauguration

By Danielle Haynes   |   Nov. 21, 2020 at 9:19 AM

Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The Justice Department has scheduled three more federal executions to take place before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next year.

In court filings Friday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons notified Alfred Bourgeois he'd be executed Dec. 11, Corey Johnson on Jan. 14 and Dustin Higgs on Jan. 15.

They're among several federal inmates to be slated for the death chamber this year after the federal government resumed carrying out executions in July. Brandon Bernard is also scheduled for Dec. 10, while Lisa Montgomery's Dec. 3 date has been stayed and is subject to appeal.

Alfred Bourgeois

Lawyers for Bourgeois argue their client has intellectual disabilities and therefore can't understand his punishments. The Eighth Amendment bans executing people with such impairments as cruel and usual punishment.

"Mr. Bourgeois is a person with intellectual disability, and both the Constitution and the plain language of the Federal Death Penalty Act bar his execution," said defense attorney Victor J. Abreau. "The jury that sentenced Mr. Bourgeois to death never learned that he was a person with intellectual disability because his trial lawyers did not present the evidence that was available to them."

Bourgeois was among the first inmates slated for death last year when Attorney General William Barr announced the resumption of federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. A federal judge stayed his execution in March, saying his lawyer made a strong case for his intellectual disability.

Bourgeois, 55, was convicted in 2004 of capital murder for the 2002 death of his daughter in Corpus Christi, Texas. Prosecutors said the girl died when Bourgeois became angry with her for turning over her potty training chair in the cab of his 18-wheeler and slammed her head into the vehicle's window.

Investigators said he regularly physically and sexually abused the toddler before her death.

Bourgeois said he was innocent of the child's death and blamed her mother.

His lawyers said he had two IQ test scores of 68 and 70, adaptive impairments and deficiencies dating back to when he was a minor as evidence of his intellectual disability. Abreu called for a hearing to determine whether Bourgeois should be allowed to prove his disability in court.

Corey Johnson

Attorneys for Johnson, 45, likewise called for the chance to prove their client's intellectual disability in court, saying no jury or court has heard evidence to date.

"We are not aware of any other federal death penalty prisoner who has never had a single evidentiary hearing at which he could present his intellectual disability evidence," said Ronald J. Tabak and Donald P. Salzman. "The government should not proceed with Mr. Johnson's execution in the absence of a thorough and fair opportunity for him to present this evidence."

Johnson was sentenced to death in 1993 for 10 murders tied to his participation in a Richmond, Va., drug gang. Accomplices James Roane and Richard Tipton also received the death penalty for their involvement.

Johnson's lawyers said a childhood of abuse and neglect led to intellectual disability, and at age 13, his mother put him in a facility for children with intellectual and emotional impairments.

They said he had an IQ score of 69 at 16 years old and three doctors have since concluded he has intellectual disability.

The lawyers also described Johnson's punishment as "arbitrary" because another accomplice, Vernon Thomas, received a life sentence because of his intellectual disability.

Dustin Higgs

Higgs was sentenced to death in 2001 for the 1996 murders of Tanji Jackson, Tamika Black and Mishann Chinn in Prince George's County, Md. Prosecutors said accomplice Willis Haynes shot the three women under direction from Higgs.

Higgs' lawyer 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.

"Dustin Higgs did not kill anyone and should not be executed," attorney Shawn Nolan said Friday.

"Although compelling evidence was available at time of the trial and would have supported a plea for life, the jury that sentenced Mr. Higgs to death did not hear all of the mitigating information showing he is not 'the worst of the worst,' because his attorneys failed to develop and present it fully," he added. "Mr. Higgs deserves clemency because of the unfair sentencing disparity in case, and because, despite the tragedy and hardship of his early life, he has been a model prisoner and is an active parent who is essential to the well-being of his son."

Higgs is scheduled to be executed less than a week before Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration, and the Trump administration's move to hold multiple executions during a lame-duck presidency has met backlash.

The federal government put to death Orlando Hall on Thursday. It was the first execution during a lame-duck presidency since 1880 under the administration of President Grover Cleveland, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

"These executions are a further illustration of how deviant and dangerously out of touch this government's conduct has been during the entire course of this execution spree," DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham said.

"No lame-duck president has attempted to carry out an execution in more than a century. And to cavalierly do so, as infections from a virus that has killed a quarter million Americans are exploding across the country, exhibits a pathological lack of concern for public health and safety."

Death Penalty Action, an anti-death penalty advocacy group, described President Donald Trump as "the most-executing president since the 1950s." The organization called on him to stop the remaining executions during his term.

"The public is safe from dangerous individuals and holds them accountable to their crimes without executions in the vast majority of cases," DPA Director Abraham Bonowitz said. "This is so unnecessary that it begs the question, why is President Trump engaging in such an unprecedented execution spree? It must be a power trip. The amazing thing is that President Trump has not said anything publicly about any of these executions, and yet he has always had a morbid fascination and blustery rhetoric when it comes to the death penalty."