Corey Johnson, one of the last two remaining federal death row inmates facing execution under the Trump administration, died of lethal injection at the Terre Haute prison complex in Indiana late Thursday. Johnson was pronounced dead just after 11:30 p.m. The move came after a U.S. appeals court lifted an earlier order delaying the execution due to COVID-19. Both Johnson and Dustin Higgs, the other death row inmate slated to be executed this week, tested positive for COVID-19 last month, prompting a judge to delay their executions due to “significant lung damage” from the virus that could make the procedure “akin to waterboarding.”
Johnson, who was 52 at the time of his death, was convicted of killing seven people in 1992 while he was part of the brutal Newtowne gang in Virginia. In addition to arguing that he could suffer “excruciating pain” due to COVID-damaged lungs, Johnson’s lawyers also argued that he suffered from an intellectual disability. The Department of Justice responded to Johnson’s last-minute appeals by dubbing him a “brutal serial killer” and noting that “numerous family members of Johnson’s victims have traveled to Terre Haute to witness his execution today for the murder of their loved ones nearly three decades ago.” The Trump administration resumed federal executions last summer after a 17-year hiatus and charged ahead with a flurry of executions amid the coronavirus pandemic, leading critics to blast the push as a political ploy to bolster Trump’s reputation as a “law and order” president. With Johnson’s death and Higgs expected to face execution on Friday, the total number of federal executions under Trump will stand at 13.