The federal government on Saturday executed its 13th death-row inmate in the last year, and the second in a week — capping the Trump administration’s record number of executions amid heated objections.
Dustin Higgs, 48, was put to death in Indiana by lethal injection. He was convicted of the 1996 kidnapping and murder of three women in a wildlife refuge in Maryland. More than 1.5 million people had signed a petition to stop the execution.
“To put that in historical context, the Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a scathing dissent published Friday, following the high court’s ruling on Higgs’ appeal Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Lisa Montgomery, 52, was executed in Indiana. Known as the “womb-raider,” Montgomery, a Kansan, was convicted in 2007 of strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett before cutting out her unborn baby. She had been granted a stay on mental health grounds that was overturned by the Supreme Court, paving the way for her to become the first woman executed since 1953.
The flurry of executions, which began in July after a 17-year hiatus, was blasted by Sotomayor.
Sotomayor named all 13 killers put to death in her opinion’s introduction and said the Department of Justice denied them due process in “this unprecedented rush of federal executions.”
Her dissent was backed by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
“Throughout this expedited spree of executions, this Court has consistently rejected inmates’ credible claims for relief,” the Sotomayor wrote. “Very few of these decisions offered any public explanation for their rationale. This is not justice.”
The Bronx-born jurist went on to condemn her fellow justices for not doing more to keep the government in check.
“The government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint,” she argued. “When it did not, this Court should have. It has not. Because the Court continues this pattern today, I dissent.”
US Attorney General William Barr had said that the Justice Department was upholding existing law when the executions began in July with the death of Brandon Bernard, 40. Bernard was put to death despite high-profile pleas from reality-TV star Kim Kardashian. Bernard was 18 when he was convicted of killing Todd and Stacie Bagley and setting their car on fire while they were on their way to a church service in Texas in 1999.
Before President Trump took office only three federal executions had taken place since 1988, when the federal death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court. All of those were carried out by former President George W. Bush.