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U.S. Executes Lisa Montgomery, The Only Woman On Federal Death Row

Lisa Montgomery was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Jan. 12 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind. The stay lets the court conduct a competency hearing to assess her mental state.
Lisa Montgomery was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Jan. 12 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind. The stay lets the court conduct a competency hearing to assess her mental state.

Editor's note: This story includes information that may be upsetting for some readers.

Late Monday night, a federal judge in Indiana blocked the execution of 52-year-old Lisa Montgomery — hours before she was scheduled to die by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind.

Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2008 for murdering 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in Missouri. In 2004, Montgomery strangled Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, cut her fetus from the womb and tried to pass the surviving baby off as her own.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge James Hanlon allows the court to conduct a hearing to determine whether Montgomery is competent to be executed on mental health grounds.

Montgomery's attorney, Kelley Henry, says the court was right to put a stop to the execution. She says no one is excusing Montgomery's actions, but her life provides some context. Henry says her client has brain damage and severe mental illness that was exacerbated by a lifetime of abuse including child sex trafficking, gang rape and physical abuse largely at the hands of family members.

"The Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of people like Mrs. Montgomery, who due to their mental illness, do not understand the basis for their executions. Mrs Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence," Henry said in a statement.

No date has been set for the competency hearing and the U.S. government filed a brief appealing the stay of execution. Montgomery's lawyers have also filed a clemency petition asking President Trump to commute her sentence to life in prison.

While Montgomery's stay of execution halts what would have been the U.S. government's first execution of a female inmate in more than 67 years, two men on federal death row face execution later in the week. Cory Johnson, 52, is scheduled for execution on Thursday for his involvement in the murder of seven people nearly three decades ago. Dustin John Higgs, 55, is scheduled to be put to death on Friday for his involvement in the murder of three women nearly 20 years ago.

Those executions — if they take place — could be the last to occur in the foreseeable future. Senate Democrats unveiled legislation Monday that would abolish the federal death penalty, and President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to eliminate it as well. In 2019, the Justice Department announced it would revive federal executions after a 16-year hiatus. Under the Trump administration, 10 men have been executed since July 2020.

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