Federal inmate set to be executed next month tests positive for COVID-19
A federal death row inmate — the last person scheduled to be executed by the Trump administration before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20 — has contracted the coronavirus, The Associated Press reports.
An attorney for Dustin John Higgs said he was notified of his client’s diagnosis on Thursday. Higgs was convicted of kidnapping and murdering three women in 2000.
The news comes as concern has increased over rapidly-spreading COVID-19 in U.S. prisons, including at the Terre Haute, Ind., complex where federal executions are performed, according to the AP.
“This is surely the result of the super spreader executions that the government has rushed to undertake in the heart of a global pandemic,” said Shawn Nolan, one of Higgs’s lawyers, according to the AP. “Following the two executions that took place last week and one other two weeks prior, the COVID numbers at the federal prison in Terre Haute spiked enormously.”
Higgs’s illness could result in a delay of his execution, scheduled for Jan. 15, as his lawyers worry his condition could worsen. Higgs’s diagnosis means he will likely be prohibited from visiting with family in the weeks before his scheduled death, the AP reports.
“Now our client is sick,” Nolan said. “We have asked the government to withdraw the execution date and we will ask the courts to intervene if they do not.”
The Trump administration has set the record for the most federal executions to take place in a presidential transition period with its recent onslaught of death row executions. Attorney General William Barr gave the green light for the federal government to resume executions in July after a 17-year ban.
Should the execution be delayed until after Biden takes office, there’s potential that the president-elect could suspend Briggs’s death via an immediate freeze on federal executions. Biden has previously signaled his desire to abolish the federal death penalty when he gets sworn in as president.
— Updated 8:07 p.m.
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