Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

It was one of the worst bursts of gang violence Richmond had ever seen. At least 11 people were killed in a 45-day period in 1992, all at the hands of gang members who eliminated anyone they thought would get in the way of their growing crack cocaine business.

Corey Johnson, who was sentenced to death in connection with seven of the slayings, was right in the thick of it 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 at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, although a federal judge in Washington, D.C., halted that execution and Friday’s scheduled execution of Dustin Higgs because both men tested positive last month for COVID-19. Government lawyers have been successful in getting a green light from the U.S. Supreme Court to proceed even after lower courts put federal executions on hold, so there’s a real chance both could still go forward.

Story continues below advertisement

If the executions are delayed past 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’ll work to end its use.

Lawyers for both inmates argue that lung damage from the coronavirus makes it more likely they’ll suffer excruciating pain from a lethal injection of pentobarbital. Johnson’s lawyers also argue he is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible to be put to death, under both federal law and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In their clemency petition, Johnson’s lawyers asked Trump to commute his death sentence to life in prison. They described a traumatic childhood when he was physically abused by his drug-addicted mother and her boyfriends, abandoned at age 13, then shuffled between residential and institutional facilities until he aged out of the foster care system. They cite numerous childhood IQ tests discovered after he was sentenced that place him in the mentally disabled category and say testing during his time in prison shows he can read and write at only an elementary school level.

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

Government filings have 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 school for emotionally troubled kids, said Johnson was hyperactive, anxious and reading and writing at a second- or third-grade level when he was 16 and 17.

“I had to have someone walk him to the bathroom because he just couldn’t get back to the classroom,” Benedict said.

Story continues below advertisement

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

“While rejecting that he has intellectual disabilities that preclude his death sentences, courts have repeatedly and correctly concluded that Johnson’s seven murders were planned to advance his drug trafficking and were not impulsive acts by someone incapable of capable making calculated judgments, and are therefore eligible for the death penalty,” prosecutors argue in court documents.

A defence psychologist testified during the trial that Johnson’s IQ was measured at 77, above the threshold score of 75 then needed to label someone as intellectually disabled. Johnson’s appellate lawyers say that psychologist was not an expert in intellectual disability and relied on standards that are now outdated.

C.T. Woody Jr., the lead homicide detective on the case, said that during his interrogations of Johnson, he denied any involvement in the killings and said police were trying to frame him because of lies people were telling about him.

“It did not seem to me that he had any kind of mental problems at all except his viciousness and no respect for human life – none whatsoever,” Woody said.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Vick Jr., one of the prosecutors in the case, said the violence committed by Johnson and his fellow gang members was unmatched at the time. One of the gang’s victims was stabbed 85 times and another was shot 16 times. Johnson was convicted of being the shooter in a triple slaying, and participating in four other capital murders, including shooting a rival drug dealer 15 times.

Story continues below advertisement

“The heinousness of the crimes, the utter senselessness of the crimes, the crimes themselves warranted the seeking of the death penalty this case,” Vick said.

In his clemency petition, Johnson’s lawyers said he has repeatedly expressed “sincere remorse” for his crimes.

“I’m sorry for the great number of people who are dead, you know, and there is a lot on us, and I feel we are no angels,” he said during his sentencing hearing. He also spoke to a group of students present in the courtroom that day and urged them not to commit crimes or make the mistakes he had made in his life.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies