US executes first woman on federal death row in nearly 70 years

Lisa Montgomery was sentenced to death for murdering pregnant woman and abducting child

Photograph provided by the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department shows  Lisa Montgomery in a booking photograph released in December 2004. Photograph: Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department/AFP via Getty Images

Photograph provided by the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department shows Lisa Montgomery in a booking photograph released in December 2004. Photograph: Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department/AFP via Getty Images

 

The Trump administration has executed Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on US federal death row, in the first federal execution of a woman in nearly 70 years.

Montgomery (52) was sentenced to death for murdering a pregnant woman in 2004 and abducting the unborn child, whom she claimed as her own.

In pleas to spare her life, Montgomery’s supporters argued a history of trauma and sexual abuse that marred her life contributed to the circumstances that led to the crime.

Her case, unusual in part because so few women are sentenced to death, ignited debate over the role of offenders’ past trauma in criminal sentencing.

Despite a series of court orders that briefly blocked her execution, she was pronounced dead at 1.31 am on Wednesday at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.

Her death, by lethal injection, is the 11th execution since the Trump administration resumed use of federal capital punishment in July after a 17-year hiatus.

Under a pseudonym, Montgomery – who had falsely told others that she was pregnant – expressed interest in buying a dog from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a rat terrier breeder in Skidmore, Missouri. But after she arrived at Ms Stinnett’s house, Montgomery strangled her, used a knife to cut her abdomen and extracted the fetus, then claimed the child as her own.

The baby girl lived and turned 16 last month on the anniversary of her mother’s death. At least some of those close to Ms Stinnett or the case said Montgomery’s execution was a just conclusion to a crime that had haunted the northwest Missouri community for years.

Richard Chaney (38) a childhood friend and classmate of Ms Stinnett’s, recalled biking to the local gas station with her, describing how in high school she had a “huge crush” on the man who would later become her husband.

Mr Chaney rejected the idea that the abuse suffered by Montgomery should have led to her life being spared, saying many people endured trauma without committing heinous crimes. “You don’t see them out killing pregnant women and cutting babies out,” he said.

“I get, you know, people like, ‘Death penalty’s wrong,’ but at what point do you excuse something like this?” he asked, several days before Montgomery was put to death. “I think, you know, it’s not right always to say an eye for an eye, but I think the community’s hurt enough that it would definitely help with some closure.”

Montgomery’s lawyers cited the repeated physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child in pleas for leniency, arguing Donald Trump would affirm the experiences of abuse survivors by commuting her sentence to life imprisonment.

Her mother forced her to “pay the bills” through sexual acts with various repairmen, and her stepfather regularly subjected her to sexual abuse, a clinical psychologist said in a court declaration filed by her defence team.

Women are scarce on death row in the United States. According to a quarterly report from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, just 2 per cent of those inmates on death row are women. With Montgomery’s execution, there are now no women on federal death row.

The last women to be executed by the federal government were Bonnie Brown Heady for kidnapping and murder and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage, both in 1953.

Two more federal inmates are scheduled for execution this week: Corey Johnson on Thursday and Dustin J. Higgs on Friday. A federal judge in the District of Columbia blocked their executions in a preliminary injunction Tuesday that the government has already appealed. - New York Times