Dustin John Higgs

Early in the morning on January 27, 1996, Dustin John Higgs and Victor Gloria waited in the car while Willis Mark Haynes shot and killed Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson, and Mishann Chinn. The murders occurred near the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, on the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland.

The previous evening, Higgs, Haynes, and Gloria, had spent time with the three female victims in Higgs’ Laurel, Maryland, apartment until an argument led the women to leave. The three men followed, with Higgs driving. They found the women walking and picked them up, apparently cordially, with a plan to drive them home. Higgs then drove to Patuxent, where the women were killed.

The women’s bodies were discovered the next day. Evidence at the scene pointed toward Higgs, who was questioned in March and arrested when drugs were found in his apartment. He was sentenced to seventeen years in federal prison on cocaine distribution charges.

In October 1998, Haynes and Gloria were arrested on separate drug charges. Questioning led to information related to the murders which led to Haynes’ arrest. He and Higgs were charged with the murders of the three women in December 1998.

Higgs was tried in U.S. District Court. Federal authority was asserted due to the location of the murders on federal property. At trial, prosecutors argued that Higgs was the ringleader of the killings, having pressed Haynes into pulling the trigger after Jackson refused his sexual advances.

In his defense, Higgs argued that he was merely the driver and that the killings were initiated by Haynes in retaliation for a drug debt the victims had not paid.

Higgs was convicted and sentenced to death on October 26, 2000. Had Higgs been tried in Maryland, a circumstance that would have arisen had he pulled the car over in a different location, he would not have been subject to the death penalty.

Haynes, who was sentenced to life in prison, subsequently provided an affidavit denying that Higgs forced him into the shootings. Gloria was sentenced to eighty-four months in federal prison.

Dustin John Higgs was executed by lethal injection at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on January 16, 2021.

With only four days remaining in the Trump Administration, he was the last of the thirteen federal death row inmates executed in the previous six months. With the federal death penalty under increasing scrutiny, it is likely that he will be the last person executed under federal authority for some time.


Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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