Executed for Murder, But Didn't Kill the Victim
Updated: Feb 27
Photo Courtesy of the New York Times
Written by: Karen Campbell
Since the 1970s, 1,565 men and women have been executed in the United States, although the number of although the number of executions has dropped significantly over the past two decades. In 2023 executions are concentrated in a handful of states and a handful of outlying counties.
All of those executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 were involved in crimes in which at least one victim died. In most cases, the executed directly killed the victim. In rare cases, the executed ordered or commissioned the murder. In another cluster of cases, the executed were involved in a crime in which a victim died at the hands of another participant in the crime. In this case, the defendant is usually convicted of "felony murder" or "partisan law," and in some states may be sentenced to death, even if he did not kill the victim or order the killing. The U.S. Supreme Court has limited the use of the death penalty in such cases.
Here's one such case. Dustin Higgs was convicted in October 2000 of ordering the murder of three Maryland women in a 1996 altercation at their home with one of the women. In May 2000, the perpetrator, Willis Mark Haynes, was sentenced to life in prison and 45 years in prison. The Higgs case is the third prosecution against the death penalty in Maryland since the federal reinstatement of the death penalty in 1988, but it is the first time a jury has pronounced the death penalty. (Washington Post, 27 October 2000). A prosecution witness who testified that Higgs ordered him to commit the murder later retracted his testimony, while Higgs insisted he was innocent until his execution.