US judge blocks planned execution of first female inmate in seven decades

Lisa Montgomery (52) one of last people scheduled for federal execution

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

 

A federal judge in Indiana late on Monday blocked the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a convicted murderer and the only woman on federal death row in the United States, on mental health grounds, based on evidence that she was unable to understand the government’s rationale for her execution.

The decision was later upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, pushing any new execution date into Joe Biden’s administration unless the US Supreme Court intervenes.

Montgomery, who was due to be killed by lethal injection on Tuesday, was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight months pregnant. Montgomery removed the baby from Stinnett’s womb and passed off the newborn as her own. The child survived.

Montgomery’s high-profile case – she would be the first woman to be executed by the federal government since 1953 – has focused new attention on whether a defendant’s full life experience should factor into sentencing, with her supporters arguing that she was a victim of long-running sexual abuse and torture who was driven to desperation.

On Friday, her lawyers asked the court to declare her incompetent in an effort to block her execution, citing serious mental illness, neurological impairment and complex trauma. The Supreme Court has found that executing the “insane” is unconstitutional.

Montgomery (52) is one of the last three of 13 people that the Trump administration has executed or scheduled for execution since resuming federal capital punishment last year, after a 17-year moratorium.

US judge James Patrick Hanlon granted a stay of execution to allow the court to conduct a hearing to determine whether she is competent to be executed, according to a court filing made in the US district court of Southern District of Indiana.

Montgomery’s lawyer, Kelley Henry, welcomed the judge’s ruling and said the court was right to put a stop to her execution.

“Mrs Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence,” Ms Henry said in a statement.

Montgomery’s lawyers have asked for US president Donald Trump’s clemency, saying she committed her crime after a lifetime of being abused and raped. In a nearly 7,000-page clemency petition filed last week, they asked Mr Trump to commute Montgomery’s sentence to life in prison.

The lawyers have said Montgomery admits her guilt but deserves clemency because she has long suffered severe mental illness, exacerbated by being severely abuse during her childhood.

A number of Stinnett’s family members plan to attend Montgomery’s execution, according to a court declaration from a Bureau of Prisons official.

Jena Baumli, a childhood friend of Stinnett’s said: “I don’t understand how this went from a premeditated murder to, ‘Let’s feel sorry for Lisa’ case,” she said.

Montgomery’s supporters said they were not asking that she ever be released from prison but rather that Mr Trump commute her sentence to life in prison without the possibility of release. – Agencies