Dustin Higgs, Cory Johnson Join Lisa Montgomery in Receiving Stays of Execution

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered a stay of execution for the final two death row inmates who were scheduled to die under President Donald Trump's administration.

The two federal inmates, Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs, were scheduled to be executed on Thursday and Friday, respectively, at the Justice Department execution chamber inside the Federal Correction Complex in Indiana. The U.S. judge's order delays the execution of both convicted murderers until at least March 16 in a move intended to allow them to recover from COVID-19 infections.

The two men have argued that lung damage caused by COVID-19 could heighten their suffering during lethal injection. Specifically, they have cite past research on a condition called pulmonary edema, where fluids enter the lungs while a person is still aware of their surroundings. The increased sensation of suffocation or drowning could be exacerbated by coronavirus, potentially violating constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington granted the two men's request for a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt their executions. The judge also cited the possibility that individuals who participate in carrying out the execution may be exposed to COVID-19 as a result, increasing the likelihood of a spread through the facility.

"The court is deeply concerned that the government intends to to execute two prisoners who are suffering from COVID-19 infection, particularly given that the disease impacts individuals in drastically different ways and can have particularly devastating long-term effects, even for those with mild symptoms, Chutkan wrote.

"This is irresponsible at best, particularly when a temporary injunction will reduce these risks. The public interest is not served by executing individuals in this manner," the judge continued.

Earlier on Tuesday, a temporary execution hold was ordered for Lisa Montgomery. The execution of Montgomery at the penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, would be the first federal execution of a female inmate in almost seven decades. The Kansas woman was convicted of killing a pregnant woman, cutting the baby from her womb and trying to pass the newborn child off as her own. Her attorneys have long argued in favor of halting the execution on the grounds of mental illness.

Johnson was convicted in 1993 on seven counts of capital murder tied to drug trafficking. Higgs was convicted in the murder of three women in Maryland in 1996.

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Lisa Montgomery
Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, was set to be executed on January 12. Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery