But Mr. Higgs was sentenced to death, a punishment that his lawyers argued was “arbitrary and inequitable” compared with that of the man who shot the gun. His defense team pointed to a declaration that Mr. Haynes signed years after the crime in which he claimed that Mr. Higgs did not threaten him nor make him do anything. Mr. Haynes claimed he shot the girls because he feared for Mr. Higgs’s life.
In a statement provided by the Bureau of Prisons, the sister of Ms. Jackson, one of Mr. Higgs’s victims, said that the news of Mr. Higgs’s execution date brought “mixed emotions.” His family is now going through the same pain hers experienced, she added.
“On one hand, I felt we were finally going to get justice, but on the other, I felt sad for your family,” she said. “When the day is over, your death will not bring my sister and the other victims back. This is not closure, this is the consequence of your actions.”
Mr. Trump was not receptive to pleas for leniency for Mr. Higgs or for any of the 12 inmates who were executed before him. The Supreme Court — which now has three Trump appointees, solidifying its conservative majority — also denied his requests for reprieve. Shortly before Mr. Higgs’s execution, the justices had vacated a stay from the Fourth Circuit that temporarily blocked the government.
Each of the court’s more liberal justices indicated that they disagreed. Justice Stephen G. Breyer listed questions that the recent federal death penalty cases have raised, among them, “To what extent does the government’s use of pentobarbital for executions risk extreme pain and needless suffering?” and, “Has an inmate demonstrated a sufficient likelihood that she is mentally incompetent — to the point where she will not understand the fact, meaning, or significance of her execution?”
“None of these legal questions is frivolous,” he wrote. “What are courts to do when faced with legal questions of this kind? Are they simply to ignore them? Or are they, as in this case, to ‘hurry up, hurry up’? That is no solution.”
But the longer the delay, he argued, the weaker the “basic penological justifications” and the greater the psychological suffering for the prisoner. As he has done before, Justice Breyer called into question the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.