With the start of 2021 and the end of the Trump Presidency, there is a push for three final death row executions.
Lisa Montgomery, Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs are to be put to death this week. Montgomery is scheduled for Tuesday, Johnson for Thursday and Higgs for Friday. There is a massive outcry among Americans for different reasons: the legality of these sentences, the risk of COVID-19 and the humanity of the lethal injection.
Montgomery suffered constant abuse as a child, and 40 former and current prosecutors support her claim for mercy, according to The Intercept. She was psychologically, physically and sexually abused, which has led to mental illness. There is doubt that Montgomery understands her fate. In addition to Montgomery, there is support for Johnson’s claim for clemency. Johnson has an intellectual disability which, according to Huff Post, should render him unqualified for the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment.
Trump’s move for executions began July 2020 and by Friday, he will have sent 13 people to their deaths. Critics are calling this an “unprecedented six month spree.” With the deaths of over 375,000 Americans due to the Coronavirus, some are wondering why there is a sudden push for these executions.
Executing death row inmates puts those involved at risk for COVID-19. Terre Haute, Indiana, is the location of our nation’s federal death row. It is also a hotspot for the virus. In December alone, there were 410 cases. This is the highest number of COVID-19 cases in any other federal prison. As a result, Montgomery’s legal team contracted the virus while working with her on the case. However, not only is there risk in contracting COVID-19, but there is limited access to legal counseling. With travel bans and quarantine lockdowns, lawyers are finding it difficult to work on these cases. Thus, the legal representation for these inmates is scarce.
Activists against the death penalty are demanding that the lethal injection of pentobarbital is inhumane. When someone is injected with the chemical, fluid can fill the lungs and cause the person to drown from the inside out. This is known to be extremely painful. Medical experts are now warning that because these inmates were exposed to COVID-19, prior lung damage can cause the pain to arrive earlier and stay longer.
But Trump isn’t the only one to blame. The death penalty and the infrastructure that supports it was a bipartisan formation. Meaning, politicians from both sides of the spectrum have designed this system that Americans have supported since its creation. The constitutionality of the death penalty has been under investigation for years, and seemingly no progress has been made.
Even with the entrance of Joe Biden, who vows to eradicate the federal death penalty, it will remain prominent throughout the country on the state level. The only way to truly eradicate capital punishment is for Americans to speak out and have their voices heard.