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Federal judge halts Honken execution again

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (FOX 47) -- A U.S. district judge blocked federal executions from proceeding again on Monday, after four death row inmates raised questions about the use of pentobarbital as a lethal injection drug.

Its use has been called into question for several years and Judge Tanya Chutkan cited the Eighth Amendment ban of cruel and unusual punishment in ruling for the inmates.

"That's the essence of the argument is that this singular drug which would be used universally is potentially a very painful process," said investigative journalist Steve Ridge.

Dustin Lee Honken, the notorious former Iowa drug kingpin, was set to be put to death on Friday.

Ridge is one of many who believe Honken is hiding something related to the disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit.

He's had personal talks with Honken's former girlfriend, Angela Johnson. She's currently serving a life sentence her role in the same murders that Honken was sentenced to death for.

Ridge isn't hopeful Honken will talk.

"I don't have any reason to believe he wants to talk or in any way involve himself in this case. I think he prefers to just let it drop and not address it," Ridge said.

Johnson told Ridge that Honken has mentioned another person's potential involvement in the Huisentruit case.

"In very specific questioning of Dustin about someone they both knew that could've been involved, he said he didn't want to talk about it and she persisted in questioning him she tells me, and that he simply told her to stop asking questions and was very dismissive of her," said Ridge. "As if to suggest that he had insight but he had no interest in sharing it."

Honken was originally arrested on drug charges in 1993. However, the charges were dropped in 1995 after no witnesses could be found when they mysteriously disappeared.

Honken was later arrested, charged, and sentenced to death of 5 people, including two young girls in 2005.

"You have to recognize at the time that Jodi went missing, it had only been three months since charges were dropped against Dustin Honken and he was actively re-instituting a very serious network of manufacture and distribution of drugs right in the Mason City area," said Ridge.

When Honken does die, it seems likely the information Johnson claims that he knows could be lost. Ridge says Honken isn't the linchpin in the case.

"I think it would eliminate one potential avenue of exploration and identification of players that could be involved in a variety of kinds of activity," said Ridge.

Others have even less confidence in anything Honken might know.

"Ya know, we're not sure that there's any bearing on the case with Honken," says FindJodi Team Member Scott Fuller.

The Department of Justice has appealed the halting of these executions to the Supreme Court.

The families of the victims are also fighting to pause the executions. They're citing concerns about traveling to prisons and sitting in small watch rooms crowded with other witnesses to see the executions in person in the midst of a pandemic.

Zach Fuller

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