TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Lisa Montgomery, the first woman to face the federal death penalty in nearly seven decades, was executed Tuesday for strangling an expectant mother in Missouri and cutting the baby from her womb.
Montgomery, 52, was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. Wednesday after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was the 11th prisoner to receive a lethal injection there since July when President Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, resumed federal executions following 17 years without one.
It came after hours of legal wrangling before the Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution to move forward. Montgomery was the first of the final three federal inmates scheduled to die before next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to discontinue federal executions.
Kelley Henry, Montgomery’s federal public defender, expressed her disappointment in the day’s events, saying the federal government violated the Constitution, federal law and its own regulation to put her client to death.
“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame,” she said in a statement provided to IndyStar of the USA TODAY Network after midnight.
Montgomery’s attorneys have said she endured severe physical and sexual abuse beginning in her childhood, and that she suffers from serious mental illness. Late Monday night, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Hanlon granted a stay to halt the execution, citing the need to determine Montgomery’s mental competence, according to attorneys.
By Tuesday afternoon, that stay had been undone. Three judges with the higher appeals court reversed Judge Hanlon’s order, saying that Montgomery’s attorneys waited too long to bring their request for an execution stay to federal court. They also said that declarations attorneys used from three experts about the state of Montgomery’s mental health relied on outdated information. Two of the experts had last seen Montgomery in 2016, and the other last saw her in 2010, according to the judges.
In 2004, Montgomery drove from her Melvern, Kansas, farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a rat terrier puppy from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder. She strangled Stinnett with a rope before performing a crude cesarean and fleeing with the baby.
There are two more outstanding petitions in Montgomery’s case that could still alter her fate.
On Dec. 24 Montgomery’s lawyers asked Trump to commute her death sentence to life in prison without parole. In their clemency petition, they describe the severe trauma that shadowed Montgomery’s childhood, and allege that she was not effectively represented by lawyers who first took on her case after the crime was committed.
On Jan. 9, Montgomery’s lawyers submitted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the justices stay her death sentence. The petition is an appeal of an earlier case out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the court ruled that the federal government acted against regulation when it scheduled Montgomery’s execution for Jan. 12 despite an outstanding court order staying her execution.
That ruling fell apart after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed it, prompting Montgomery’s lawyers to now take it up with the Supreme Court.
Two other executions set for later this week also were halted because the inmates tested positive for COVID-19. The executions were to be the last before President-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, is sworn-in next week.
A federal judge for the U.S. District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling Tuesday. Johnson, convicted of killing seven people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, and Higgs, convicted of ordering the murders of three women in Maryland, both tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
Contributing: Rafael Garcia, Topeka Capital-Journal; The Associated Press.
Contact IndyStar reporter Elizabeth DePompei at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @edepompei.