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US executes prisoner with COVID-19 sequelae

The United States government executed a drug trafficker for his role in a string of murders in the Virginia capital in 1992, despite claims by his lawyers that the lethal injection could cause excruciating pain due to lung damage caused by a recent COVID-19 infection.

Corey Johnson, 52, was the 12th inmate to die at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, since the Donald Trump administration resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus.

He was pronounced dead at 11:34 p.m.

The execution of Johnson and that of Dustin Higgs are the last before the inauguration next week of President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes federal capital punishment and has indicated that he will end its use.

The two inmates contracted the coronavirus, earning them a temporary stay of execution this week, before the higher courts allowed the process to go ahead.

Attorneys had alleged that lethal injections of pentobarbital cause sudden pulmonary edema, where the fluid quickly fills the lungs causing a sensation similar to that of drowning.

The new argument was that the liquid would reach the prisoner’s lungs, damaged by COVID-19, immediately, while he was still conscious.

Johnson was implicated in one of the worst episodes of gang violence ever seen in Richmond, with 11 dead in 45 days: He and two other members of the Newtowne gang were sentenced to death under federal law against large-scale drug dealers.