The United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday ordered a stay of execution for Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs, both of whom were scheduled to be executed on Thursday and Friday, respectively. "The injunction will remain in effect until March 16, 2021" to allow both men to recover from COVID-19 infections.
The two men have argued that lung damage caused by COVID-19 could heighten their suffering during lethal injection. Specifically, they have cite past research on a condition called pulmonary edema, where fluids enter the lungs while a person is still aware of their surroundings. The increased sensation of suffocation or drowning could be exacerbated by coronavirus, potentially violating constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
The court also cited the possibility that individuals who participate in carrying out the execution may be exposed to COVID-19 as a result, increasing the likelihood of a spread through the facility.
"The court is deeply concerned that the government intends to execute two prisoners who are suffering from COVID-19 infection, particularly given that the disease impacts individuals in drastically different ways and can have particularly devastating long-term effects, even for those with mild symptoms. This is to say nothing of the fact that executing inmates who are positive for COVID-19 in a facility with an active COVID-19 outbreak will endanger the lives of those performing the executions and those witnessing it. This is irresponsible at best, particularly when a temporary injunction will reduce these risks."
Dusting Higgs's execution was stayed on another issue by the the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit when it ordered the case scheduled for oral argument on January 27, 2021, at 11:00 a.m. Previous coverage available here.