I have written about the executions that the Trump administration has put forward in the last few weeks a couple of times. There are a total of 4 inmates set to be executed in a span of a week.
We have the case of Dustin John Higgs who is set to be put to death by lethal injection on January 15, 2021. Ironically this is my birthday, and it feels weird to think while I will be celebrating my 31st birthday Dustin Higgs will be executed.
During the early morning hours of January 27, 1996, Tanji Jackson, Tamika Black, and Mishann Chinn were found murdered in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
A quick google search made Dustin seem immediately guilty however after researching and digging, he wasn’t even the trigger man. The man who pulled the trigger and took a plea deal, Willis Haynes and was sentenced to life without parole. Willis said he was told to shoot the victims by Dustin, since he took the deal he will not be executed.
I learned a lot more about this case when I reviewed the offical petition documents, which I linked below. Here’s the short version of how we got here thanks to Wikipedia.
On the evening of Friday, January 26, 1996, Dustin Higgs, Willis Haynes, and Victor Gloria, drove from Higgs’s apartment in Laurel, Maryland to Washington, D.C., to pick up Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson, and Mishann Chinn. Dates had been arranged for each of the men and women and the groups had agreed to meet and hang out together. The six of them travelled in Higgs’s vehicle, a blue Mazda MPV van, and returned to his apartment to drink alcohol, smoke marijuana and listen to music. The partying continued into the early hours of the morning on January 27.
At some point during the night, an argument broke out and the women left the apartment. Higgs, Haynes, and Gloria, then headed out after them, with Higgs driving his own vehicle and Haynes sat in the front passenger seat. Gloria was sat in the back of the van behind Higgs. Higgs drove his van to the side of the road where the women were walking. They picked up the women and offered them a ride home, which they willingly accepted. The women got into the back of the vehicle and Higgs drove out of Laurel. Neighbors in the area reported hearing and seeing the three women laughing and talking in the early hours of that morning.
Higgs drove his van along a state road onto the Patuxent Research Refuge and stopped the vehicle near the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The women got out of the van and Haynes exited the vehicle also. Haynes then fatally shot each of the three women to death with a silver .38 caliber pistol. Multiple shots were fired before Haynes returned to the van and closed the door. The gun was then disposed of and thrown into the Anacostia River. In the early hours of January 27, a passing motorist found the bodies of the three women and contacted the Park Police. Jackson’s day planner was found at the scene with Higgs’s nickname and telephone number recorded in it. According to the medical examiner, Jackson and Black had each been shot once in the chest and once in the back. Chinn had been shot once in the back of the head.
According to Dustin’s petition for clemency, he is seeking clemency for these reasons;
It is undisputed that Mr. Higgs did not kill anyone. The actual killer, co-defendant Willis Haynes, was tried separately and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release. It is arbitrary and inequitable to punish Mr. Higgs more severely than the actual killer.
Mr. Higgs was prosecuted on the theory that he ordered Mr. Haynes to commit the killings. That theory was supported exclusively by the contested testimony of Victor Gloria, a cooperating co-defendant who received a substantial deal in exchange for his cooperation. Moreover, significant questions remain as to whether Mr. Gloria received the additional undisclosed benefit of having an unrelated state murder investigation against him dropped at the urging of federal officers to protect his credibility as the star witness. A federal death verdict should not rest on such a flimsy basis.
On December 17, 2020, the Bureau of Prisons informed undersigned counsel that Mr. Higgs tested positive for COVID-19. His diagnosis less than a month before his scheduled execution means that, absent a commutation or reprieve, he will be forced to spend much of his remaining time battling a serious disease. He will also be substantially less able to meet with members of his legal team and family. And his recent diagnosis may cause significant complications during the course of an execution.
Mr. Higgs has adjusted exceptionally well to life in prison and has long been a model prisoner. His demonstrated record of positive adjustment makes him particularly well- suited to peacefully live out the remainder of his life in custody.
Mr. Higgs has been and continues to be a loving, caring parent to his son, Da’Quan. Da’Quan was born shortly after Mr. Higgs was arrested and Mr. Higgs has therefore done all of his parenting from inside a prison. Despite the physical separation, Mr. Higgs has remained an active, engaged, and dedicated parent and positive influence in his son’s life for more than two decades. Da’Quan will suffer greatly if his father is executed.
6. Mr. Higgs’s traumatic childhood mitigates his crimes. Mr. Higgs’s difficult upbringing was not meaningfully presented to the jury at trial. The handful of mitigation witnesses called by the defense provided incomplete and inaccurate information about Mr. Higgs’s life.
In short, Dustin is being put to death based on testimony from a highly suspect witness. He will be one of three people put to death by Trump’s administration while on their killing spree within a week. Let me repeat that, Trump is pushing forward to execute three people within one week.
You can view Dustin’s petition here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/save-dustin-higgs/
Previously published on medium
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