Execution rescheduled for only woman on federal death row after COVID-19 delay

Crime

In this handout photo provided by the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department, Lisa Montgomery appears in a booking photo released December 20, 2004 in Kansas City, Kansas. Montgomery, of Melvern, Kansas, is accused of murdering the pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett, cutting the fetus from her body, and claiming the live baby as her own. (Photo by Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government now plans to execute the first female inmate in almost six decades just days before President-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the death penalty, takes office.

Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery said Monday that the Justice Department rescheduled her execution for Jan. 12. Biden’s inauguration comes Jan. 20.

A federal judge in Washington had delayed the December execution of Montgomery, 49, because her lawyers tested positive for the novel coronavirus after visiting her behind bars. The delay was meant to allow her attorneys to recover from the virus and file a clemency petition on her behalf.

Montgomery’s attorneys, Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell, said they both tested positive for COVID-19 after they flew from Nashville, Tennessee, to visit her at the federal prison in Texas where she is serving her sentence. In court papers, they said each roundtrip visit from Nashville involved two flights, hotel stays and interaction with airline and hotel staff, as well as prison employees.

With the new execution date, Montgomery would be one of three federal inmates scheduled to die that week. Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs are scheduled to be put to death on Jan. 14 and 15 while two other executions are scheduled for December.

The Justice Department resumed federal executions this year after a 17-year hiatus. Eight people have been executed since July, more than during the previous half-century, despite waning public support from both Democrats and Republicans for its use.

Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo has said the president-elect “opposes the death penalty now and in the future” and would work as president to end its use. But Ducklo did not say whether executions would be paused immediately once Biden takes office.

Montgomery was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife, authorities said. Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, prosecutors said.

Montgomery’s lawyers have argued that their client suffers from serious mental illnesses.

“It is difficult to grasp the extremity of the horrors Lisa suffered from her earliest childhood, including being raped by her stepfather, handed off to his friends for their use, sold to groups of adult men by her own mother and repeatedly gang raped, and relentlessly beaten and neglected. No one intervened to help Lisa, though many knew what was happening to her,” attorney Sandra Babcock said in a statement.

“No other woman has been executed for a similar crime, because most prosecutors have recognized that it is inevitably the product of trauma and mental illness,” Babcock said. “Executing Lisa Montgomery would be yet another injustice inflicted on a woman who has known a lifetime of mistreatment.”

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