A federal death row inmate who is due to die on Jan. 15 has petitioned President Trump for clemency. The Guardian explains the case Dustin Higgs is trying to make: Essentially that it was "arbitrary and inequitable" to sentence the man who murdered three woman who had been abducted on Jan. 27, 1996, to life and decide to put Higgs, who killed no one by his own hand, to death. That Willis Haynes pulled the trigger is not disputed. Higgs' sentencing stemmed from a theory put forth at trial that Higgs ordered the killings of Tamika Black, Mishann Chinn, and Tanji Jackson after one of them turned him down at a party. The women were killed near Beltsville, Maryland, at a federal wildlife center, which is why the case was prosecuted as a federal crime.
But Higgs' lawyers say that theory was mostly held up by the testimony of one witness—who happened to also be involved in the case and got a "substantial deal" in order to point a finger at Higgs. "A federal death verdict should not rest on such a flimsy basis," the petition reads. That's not the only consideration, per Higgs' lawyers, who say that because Higgs currently has the coronavirus, "he will be severely restricted from visiting with his attorneys and family members without risk of making them seriously ill." The AP notes the timing: Should Higgs' COVID diagnosis push his execution date at least five days forward, it would then fall into the first days of the Joe Biden administration; it's possible the death-penalty opponent would put federal executions on ice. (Read more death row stories.)