Dustin Higgs' Final Words Before Execution of Death Row Inmate

Dustin Higgs proclaimed his innocence right up until the time he became the 13th and final federal inmate to be executed under the presidency of Donald Trump, who faces criticism for ending a 17-year hiatus on the federal death penalty.

Forty-eight-year-old Higgs was pronounced dead at 1.23 a.m. on Saturday in Terre Haute, Indiana, following a lethal injection of pentobarbital for the killings of three women in a Maryland wildlife refuge more than two decades ago.

"First, I'd like to state I am an innocent man," he said in his final words, before naming the three victims, "I am not responsible for their deaths and I did not order the murders," he added, Indiana newspaper The Tribune-Star reported.

A federal jury in Maryland had convicted Higgs in October 2000 of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the killings of Tamika Black, aged 19, Mishann Chinn, 23, and Tanji Jackson, 21.

The jury heard how Higgs, Willis Mark Haynes, and a third man, Victor Gloria, had picked up the women on January 27 1996 and drove them to Higgs's apartment in Laurel, Maryland.

Following an altercation between Higgs and Jackson, the men chased the women after they left the apartment and persuaded them to get into a vehicle belonging to Higgs, who drove them to the Patuxent national wildlife refuge, the court heard. Gloria testified that Higgs had handed his pistol to Haynes, who shot all three women.

Haynes, was sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting the victims, while Higgs was prosecuted for giving the order for the killings.

In a plea for clemency, Higgs's lawyers had argued that it was "arbitrary and inequitable" that Higgs was punished more severely than the man who pulled the trigger, given that it was "undisputed" that Higgs "did not kill anyone."

In the petition to commute his sentence of death and/or grant a 90-day reprieve, his lawyers said that Higgs' "demonstrated record of positive adjustment makes him particularly well-suited to peacefully live out the remainder of his life in custody."

However, U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte, who presided over Higgs's trial wrote on 29 December that he had received "a fair trial and was convicted and sentenced to death by a unanimous jury for a despicable crime."

Temporary stays of execution had been granted to Higgs, and another death row inmate, Corey Johnson, over concerns that COVID-19 infections meant that they could suffer more during the lethal injections. These stay were overruled by higher courts. Johnson was executed on Thursday.

Trump ended a 17-year hiatus on the federal death penalty in July and Higgs' attorney Shawn Nolan, said there was a political agenda in the executions in the final days of the presidency.

"In the midst of the pandemic and everything that's going on right now in the country, it seems just insane to move forward with these executions," she said.

Higgs' death came after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to clear the way for the last-minute federal execution, days before President Trump leaves office. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent to the decision and harshly criticized the Trump administration for the recent spate of executions.

"After seventeen years without a single federal execution, the Government has executed twelve people since July," she wrote. "This is not justice," she added.

Federal Correctional Complex Terre Haute
The Federal Correctional Complex Terre Haute in Terre Haute, Indiana is pictured in July 2019. Dustin Higgs was executed at the facility on January 16 2021. Scott Olson/Getty Images