Lawyers for a Virginia gang member asked a federal judge Tuesday to stop his execution, saying he is intellectually disabled and therefore legally ineligible for the death penalty.
Cory Johnson, 45, is scheduled to die in the federal government’s execution chamber next month, just days before President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration. He was a member of the vicious Newtowne drug gang that terrorized Richmond in the early 1990s.
In 1993, Johnson and two fellow gang members were sentenced to death in federal court for the deaths of 10 people. An 11th homicide attributed to the gang was not prosecuted.
The victims included suspected snitches, rival dealers and those they thought disrespected the gang. One victim was stabbed 85 times, while another was shot and stabbed.
Johnson’s accomplices, James Roane and Richard Tipton, remain on death row, but no execution date has been scheduled.
In court filings Tuesday, Johnson’s attorneys said he is exempt from the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled. They say childhood records show impairments in everyday life skills and can produce a slew of medical experts and associates of Johnson who can verify that claim.
When Johnson was 13, he was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother to a residential facility for children with intellectual and emotional impairments, according to court documents. His lawyers say he was placed there because he could not learn, and she could not cope with his limitations.
“Widely accepted modern science now recognizes that Cory Johnson’s valid and reliable childhood and adult IQ results were soundly within the intellectual disability range, including an IQ score of 69, when he was 16 years old,” the lawyers wrote in a filing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Last week, lawyers for another individual on death row, Alfred Bourgeois, raised similar intellectual disability claims in a bid to stop his execution. The Supreme Court rejected that argument, although Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayer dissented.
Bourgeois was put to death Friday.
Since the Trump administration began applying the death penalty this summer after a 17-year hiatus, it has put to death 10 federal inmates, the most ever in one year.
In addition to Johnson, two other inmates are scheduled to be executed in January.