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Government Appeals Execution Stay For Two Federal Inmates

The Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana

The Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana (Adam Pinsker WTIU/WFIU)

Lawyers for the Department of Justice are asking an appeals court to void a stay of execution for two inmates scheduled to be executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute.

Corey Johnson is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Jan. 14 followed by Dustin Higgs on Jan. 15.

Both men were sentenced to death after being convicted of committing multiple murders more than two decades ago.

Johnson and Higgs contracted the Coronavirus last month.  On Jan. 12, D.C. District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an injunction halting their executions over concerns damage the virus caused to the condemned men’s lungs could complicate their executions. 

Critics say the drug the federal government uses during the lethal injection process, pentobarbital, violates the constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 

Autopsies conducted on several executed inmates showed they suffered from a condition called “pulmonary edema.”  The condition creates a drowning sensation that occurs before the drug renders the inmate unconscious. 

In its 53-page appeal filed in the D.C. District Court of Appeals, the government says the plaintiff’s claims do not meet the “exceedingly high bar” for last-minute injunctive relief. It also said inmates are only conscious for 30 to 60 seconds once the drugs are administered, meaning there is a small window of time an inmate could feel significant pain.

If the appeals court rules in favor of the government, attorneys for the inmates can appeal to U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court has declined to intervene in any of the 11 federal executions that have occurred since the Trump Administration resumed federal executions last summer.

 

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