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US executes drug trafficker battling Covid-19 following prolonged legal fight

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The federal government on Thursday night, 14 January, executed a drug trafficker responsible for seven murders in 1992. His attorneys had claimed moving forward with the execution would be ‘cruel and usual punishment’ because of his recent COVID-19 infection.

Corey Johnson, 52, was executed at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana and pronounced dead at 11:34 p.m. He is the 12th person to be executed by the government since July after the Trump administration restarted federal executions following a 17-year hiatus.

From 1989 to 1992, Johnson and others ran a drug trafficking operation in Virginia, according to the federal government. In response to perceived slights and drug trade rivalries, the department of justice says Johnson murdered his seven victims, Peyton Johnson, Louis Johnson, Bobby Long, Dorothy Armstrong, Anthony Carter, Linwood Chiles, and Curtis Thorne. In February 1993, Johnson was found guilty of those murders.

According to The New York Times, Johnson said in his final statement that he was sorry for his crimes.

He told the victims families, “I would have said I was sorry before, but I didn’t know how, I hope you will find peace.

He added that the pizza and strawberry shake he had before his execution was wonderful but that he didn’t get the jelly doughnuts he ordered. He also thanked his chaplain and legal team.

Before his execution, there was a tense legal battle because Johnson was still experiencing symptoms from his COVID-19 diagnosis last month.

Medical experts warned that receiving an overdose of pentobarbital would likely be even more painful for individuals recovering from COVID-19 because the virus often damages the lungs.

A federal judge found these warnings credible and on Tuesday stayed the executions of Johnson and another man, Dustin Higgs, who was also diagnosed with COVID-19, until March. But the government appealed and, ultimately, the US supreme court allowed Johnson’s killing to proceed.

Johnson’s lawyers condemned the execution as a stark violation of the constitution and federal law.

“The government’s arbitrary rush to execute Mr Johnson, who was categorically ineligible for execution due to his significant impairments, rested on procedural technicalities rather than any serious dispute that he was intellectually disabled, Donald P. Salzman and Ronald J. Tabak said in a statement.

“No court ever held a hearing to consider the overwhelming evidence of Mr Johnson’s intellectual disability. And the clemency process failed to play its historic role as a safeguard against violations of due process and the rule of law.

“We loved Corey Johnson, and we knew him as a gentle soul who never broke a rule in prison and kept trying, despite his limitations to pass the GED. His family and loved ones are in our hearts, the lawyers added.

 

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