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US executes mentally-ill man despite COVID-19 infection, 12th under Trump

Corey Johnson was put to death in the US Justice Department’s execution chamber at its prison in Terre Haute, Indiana on Thursday.

The US government has executed a mentally-disabled man convicted of murder in 1992 after the Supreme Court rejected a plea to allow him to recover from coronavirus infection.

Corey Johnson was put to death in the US Justice Department’s execution chamber at its prison in Terre Haute, Indiana on Thursday.  He became the 12th inmate executed since the Donald Trump administration resumed federal executions last year.

The execution went ahead despite pleas from Johnson’s lawyers for a stay on grounds that the lethal injection of pentobarbital would cause their client excruciating pain due to lung damage he has incurred from COVID-19 infection.

The Supreme Court had earlier rejected a lower court’s ruling that the final two scheduled federal executions of the outgoing Trump administration be delayed because both inmates have contracted COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Judge Tanya Chutkan of the US District Court ordered the executions be delayed until at least March 16 to allow the death-row inmates to recover after medical experts warned that their damaged lungs would cause them extraordinary suffering if they were to receive lethal injections.

The lawyers representing Johnson and Dustin Higgs, who is convicted in a separate murder and scheduled to be executed Friday evening, argued that the execution of the convicted men in their current condition was in contravention of the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibiting “cruel and unusual” punishments.

As he was strapped to a gurney in the death chamber, Johnson, described by his attorneys as severely mentally disabled, appeared distracted and only focused on a room designated for his family members.

“I love you,” he said, before apologizing for his actions.

Trump, a long-standing advocate of capital punishment, oversaw the resumption of federal executions last year following a 17-year hiatus. His administration has ramped up executions in the final days of Trump’s presidency.

On Wednesday, the US government executed Lisa Montgomery, a convicted murderer, in a federal prison in Indiana by lethal injection. She was the first woman executed in the federal system in nearly seven decades.

The execution, which sparked widespread condemnations including from the European Union, went ahead after the Supreme Court lifted an appeals court stay that had blocked the execution. The justices also denied a request for a stay filed by Montgomery's attorneys on grounds that she was mentally ill.

“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight,” Kelley Henry, an attorney for Montgomery, said in a statement.

Friday’s scheduled execution of Higgs is the last before January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has signaled he would end the use of the federal death penalty.



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