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Federal government executes Virginia gang killer despite coronavirus diagnosis

The federal government late Thursday executed 52-year-old Corey Johnson, who was convicted for his involvement in a burst of gang violence in Virginia in 1992, despite a federal judge earlier this week initially halting the execution after Johnson tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Johnson was executed by lethal injection Thursday at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., making Johnson the 12th inmate executed at the Indiana prison since the Trump administration resumed federal executions following a 17-year hiatus on the practice. 

Johnson’s lawyers up until his execution argued that the lethal injection would cause an intense amount of pain due to the long-term damage caused by his coronavirus infection last month. 

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On Tuesday, a federal judge halted the executions of Johnson and Dustin Higgs, who is scheduled for a Friday execution, citing the two men’s COVID-19 diagnoses. 

Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee, wrote in her ruling that “the public interest is not served by executing individuals in this manner.”

However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in a 2-1 decision Thursday that the two executions could proceed as planned, with Judge Gregory Katsas, a Trump appointee, writing for the majority that the lawyers’ arguments about health concerns amounted to “conjecture.”

After Johnson’s execution Thursday, his lawyers released a final statement he had provided in which Johnson apologized for his actions. Johnson was convicted for playing a role in a period of gang violence in Richmond, Va., in 1992, in which 11 people were killed in a 45-day period, according to The Associated Press

“I want to say that I am sorry for my crimes,” Johnson said in the statement, the AP reported. “I wanted to say that to the families who were victimized by my actions.” 

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The AP noted that reporters could hear clapping erupting from the witness room reserved for relatives of the victims as an official pronounced Johnson dead Thursday evening. 

In attempts to block the execution, Johnson’s lawyers argued that the man had suffered physical abuse as a child by his drug-addicted mother and her boyfriends before he was shuffled around the foster care system until he aged out. His lawyers added that numerous IQ tests placed Johnson in a mentally disabled category. 

In a statement Thursday, Johnson’s lawyers said that the government executed a person “with an intellectual disability, in stark violation of the Constitution and federal law,” the AP reported. 

Higgs, who was convicted in 2000 for the kidnapping and murder of three women, is the final federal execution scheduled before President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' MORE’s inauguration next week. Biden has vocally opposed the death penalty and signaled that he would seek to end the practice upon taking office.