Justice Department schedules three more federal executions


The Justice Department late Friday scheduled three more federal executions, including two inmates set to die just days before presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden takes over in January.

Since the Trump administration resumed the use of capital punishment after a 17-year hiatus, eight inmates have been put to death. An additional two more inmates are scheduled to die before the end of the year.

If all remaining executions take place, the Trump administration will have killed 13 federal inmates in under a year, the most in U.S. history.

Democrats and advocacy groups have demanded the Trump administration halt federal executions during the transition period before Mr. Biden takes office. However, Friday night’s announcement shows the Trump administration has ignored such calls.

“President Trump is already the most-executing president since the 1950s, so he’s got his record as the biggest and the best. Perhaps President Trump is now gunning to beat President Roosevelt, who oversaw 17 federal executions, and those were during World War II,” said Abraham Bonowitz, president of Death Penalty Action, a group that opposes capital punishment. “Seriously, no further executions are necessary. We call upon President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop them all. Just stop.”

Mr. Biden has expressed opposition to the death penalty but has not formally stated if federal executions would continue under his administration.

On Friday, the Justice Department said it has scheduled the executions of Alfred Bourgeois for December 11 and Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs for January 14 and 15. All three executions are scheduled to occur at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

In the announcement, the department said the inmates committed “staggeringly brutal murders.”

Bourgeois was convicted of sexually molesting and then torturing and beating his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to death. Prosecutors said Bourgeois punched his daughter in the face, whipped her with an electrical cord, and burned the bottom of her foot with a cigarette lighter.

Johnson, a crack dealer, was convicted of murdering seven people who posed a threat to his Richmond, Virginia-based drug business. His co-defendants in the case are also on death row.

Higgs was convicted of ordering the 1996 murder of three women at a federal wildlife center near Beltsville, Maryland. Prosecutors say Higgs gave a gun to one of his friends to kill the girls because they rebuffed his advances at a party.

Attorneys for Bourgeois and Johnson said their clients have intellectual disabilities.

Ronald J. Tabak and Donald P. Salzman said Johnson’s intellectual disability should prohibit his execution from being carried out.

“Despite compelling evidence demonstrating his intellectual disability, no jury or court has ever listened to the evidence at a hearing to decide if he has an intellectual disability,” they said in a statement. “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. 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.”

Vic Abreu, who is representing Bourgeois, said his client had ineffective attorneys who failed to present evidence of his intellectual disability.

“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,” Mr. Abreu said. “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.”

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