In Its Final Days, Trump Administration Executes Lisa Montgomery, the Only Woman on Federal Death Row

Correctional facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.
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In one of their final moves, the Trump administration executed the only woman on federal death row and the first in nearly 70 years. 

After waiting over a decade on death row, Lisa Montgomery was scheduled to be executed Tuesday. But in a last-minute ruling, a federal judge late Monday granted a halt in Montgomery's execution, after her lawyers requested a stay of execution as she awaited a mental competency review. 

In a rapid decision and shocking turn of events, the Supreme Court cleared the way for her execution to move forward. Montgomery, 52, died at 1:31 a.m. EST at the federal prison complex where she was held in Terre Haute, Indiana, according to the Bureau of Prisons. She was transported, in shackles, from a medical center in Texas to Indiana late Monday night, the New York Times reported.

Montgomery remained behind bars at a federal correctional facility in Terre Haute after she was sentenced to death in 2008 for murdering 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett. 

In 2004, Montgomery drove from Kansas to Missouri, and strangled 8-month-pregnant Stinnett to death, removed Stinnett's fetus from her womb, and then attempted to keep the child as her own. She was convicted of federal kidnapping resulting in death and sentenced to death by a federal jury.

Montgomery was originally scheduled to be executed last month but after members of her legal team fell ill with the coronavirus, a judge granted the delay. 

Kelley Henry, Montgomery's longtime attorney, has been fighting alongside her legal team to put a stop to Montgomery's execution. Early Wednesday morning, Henry wrote in a statement that the Trump administration had violated the constitution by executing Montgomery.

“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame," Henry said after Montgomery's execution. "No one disagrees that Mrs. Montgomery was the victim of unspeakable torture and sex trafficking.

"[Trump] had not even the decency to formally deny – or even acknowledge – Lisa’s clemency application, though it is hard to imagine a case more deserving of executive intervention than this one."

“The U.S. Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway. Violating the Constitution, federal law, its own regulations, and longstanding norms along the way."

The day before Montgomery's execution, Henry said that while no one was excusing her client's actions at the time of the killing, Montgomery should not be put to death because she suffers from a mental illness that has been "exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers." 

Psychiatric experts submitted affidavits as part of her appeal claiming she is unable to understand the basis for her execution. Henry cited the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the execution of people who, due to a mental illness, do not understand the reason for their execution.

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

Montgomery's childhood was marked by a lifetime of abuse. She was repeatedly gang-raped by men and sex trafficked. Well into her adulthood, Montgomery had reportedly been experiencing auditory hallucinations, sleep disturbances, and religious delusions, according to court documents and her lawyers.

Henry continued, "In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law. This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa.

"We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again.”

Since 1632, there have been 575 documented executions of women out of more than 15,000 executions in the country, according to the Times, which cited the Espy Files, a database of executions in the United States and earlier colonies.

After a 17-year lapse on the federal death penalty, Attorney General William Barr lifted the moratorium in 2019. Montgomery was the 11th death row inmate to be executed since the nearly two-decade-long hiatus, CNN reported. As of July 2019, there were 57 women on death row –– making up for less than 2% of the total death row population, according to public data. 

Since 1976, there have been 16 women executed. 

Montgomery's sister, Diana Mattingly, who said she experienced similar abuse as a child and also went on to testify at her sister's trial, spoke with CBS Tuesday. "I do believe that [Lisa] does need to spend the rest of her life in prison. What had happened to Bobbie Jo was horrendous. My heart goes out to her family. I am so sorry that this happened to you."

But, Mattingly continued, "I'm here because I want people to understand the torture my sister endured her whole life. And the people that let her down over and over again."

"This type of abuse changes a person's brain. It changes who they are."

In its final moments, after Democrats reclaimed the majority of the Senate and, for a second time, the House of Representatives began moving forward Wednesday with their articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, the president's administration appeared to continue to take full advantage of its power and expedite whatever remains on its agenda. 

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