Drug dealer convicted in 7 killings could face execution

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RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – It was one of the worst explosions of gang violence Richmond had ever seen. At least 11 people were killed over a 45-day span in 1992, all at the hands of gang members who eliminated anyone they believed could hinder their growing crack activity.

Corey Johnson, who was sentenced to death for seven of the murders, was right on target as one of the leaders of the Newtowne gang. He and two other members were sentenced to death under a federal law that targets large-scale drug traffickers.

Johnson, now 52, ​​was scheduled to die Thursday in federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, although a federal judge in Washington, DC, halted that execution and Dustin Higgs’ scheduled execution on Friday because the two men tested positive for COVID-19 last month. . Government attorneys have managed to get the green light from the U.S. Supreme Court to prosecute even after lower courts suspended federal executions, so there’s a real chance the two could continue.

If executions are postponed beyond this week, they might not happen at all because President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next Wednesday, opposes the federal death penalty and has said he would work to end its use.

Lawyers for the two detainees say the lung damage caused by the coronavirus makes them more likely to suffer excruciatingly from a fatal injection of pentobarbital. Johnson’s lawyers also argue that he is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for death, both under federal law and a US Supreme Court ruling.

In their petition for clemency, Johnson’s attorneys asked Trump to commute his death sentence to life in prison. They described a traumatic childhood when he was physically abused by his addict mother and boyfriends, abandoned at age 13, then moved between residential and institutional settings until he got old from the health care system. foster care. They cite numerous childhood IQ tests discovered after his conviction that place him in the category of mentally disabled and say tests during his time in prison show he can only read and write at an elementary level.

“To allow Corey to be executed would be a serious miscarriage of justice,” said Don Salzman, one of Johnson’s attorneys.

Government filings spelled Johnson’s name “Cory”, but his lawyers say he spells it “Corey.”

Richard Benedict, who was Johnson’s special education teacher at a New York City school for emotionally challenged children, said Johnson was hyperactive, anxious and read and write at a second or third grade level when he was 16. and 17 years old.

“I had to ask someone to go with him to the bathroom because he just couldn’t get back into the classroom,” Benedict said.

Prosecutors, however, say Johnson has not shown he is mentally disabled.

“While rejecting the fact that he suffers from an intellectual disability which prevents him from sentencing to death, the courts have repeatedly and correctly concluded that Johnson’s seven murders were intended to advance his drug trade. and were not impulsive acts on the part of a person incapable of rendering calculated judgments, and are therefore eligible for the death penalty, ”prosecutors say in court documents.

A defense psychologist testified during the trial that Johnson’s IQ was measured at 77, above the threshold of 75 then needed to designate someone as having an intellectual disability. Johnson’s appeal lawyers say the psychologist was not an expert on intellectual disability and was relying on standards that are now outdated.

CT Woody Jr., the lead homicide detective in the case, said during his …

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