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A growing chorus of legal academics, social justice activists, and death penalty experts are urging President Donald Trump to call off the execution of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman inmate on death row.
Montgomery, who was convicted in the 2004 murder of a pregnant woman in Missouri, is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 8 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. She could become the first woman to be put to death by the federal government in nearly 70 years.
Now more than 1,000 advocates — including dozens of concerned lawyers, anti-sex trafficking and anti-domestic violence activists — are demanding that the Trump administration halt Montgomery’s execution, citing the woman’s mental health, according to letters sent to the White House this week.
In 2004, Montgomery drove from Kansas to 23-year-old Barbara Jo Stinnett's Skidmore, Missouri home under the ruse of buying a puppy from the expectant mother. She strangled Stinnett, cut her open with a kitchen knife, and removed her 8-month-old fetus from her body, according to the Department of Justice.
The baby survived and was later recovered safely by authorities.
Montgomery has a host of psychological issues, her legal team said.
“Lisa’s experiences as a victim of horrific sexual violence, physical abuse, and being trafficked as a child do not excuse her crime,” a coalition of 41 current and former prosecutors wrote in one letter. “But her history provides us with an important explanation that would influence any sentencing recommendation we made as prosecutors.”
Montgomery was sex-trafficked and severely abused by her mother as a child, which exacerbated her psychosis, leading to Stinnett's murder, her lawyers said. In the past month alone, her lawyers have noted her mental health has “quickly deteriorated” and that she has increasingly lost “touch with reality.”
“It’s horrific,” Leigh Goodmark, director of the Gender Violence Clinic, University of Maryland Carey School of Law, told Oxygen.com. “We try to get courts to consider the context in which people commit their crimes. No one who is involved with Lisa’s case is trying to claim it wasn’t a horrific crime but there was a context in which it happened.”
Goodmark, a domestic violence expert, called Montgomery’s scheduled execution “unconscionable.”
“[Montgomery] had the worst childhood that anyone can truly imagine,” she added. “She was gang-raped by adult men on multiple occasions and told that was happening because she had to earn her keep as a child, as a small child.”
Last week, Montgomery’s legal team filed a preliminary injunction seeking to delay her scheduled execution after two of her lawyers contracted COVID-19, according to a statement sent to Oxygen.com.
“Mrs. Montgomery’s lawyers cannot represent her because they are seriously ill, through no fault of their own,” her lawyers wrote in court filings.
Montgomery’s attorneys said their infections were a direct “result of traveling to visit their client.” The statement singled out Attorney General William Barr for scheduling the executions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 243,000 Americans.
“They are sick because Defendant [William] Barr recklessly scheduled Mrs. Montgomery’s execution in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said. “But for Barr’s action, counsel would not have been stricken with the disease that is ravaging the country. But the pandemic affects more than counsel. Because of COVID-19, the experts familiar with her case cannot assess her mental state and therefore cannot participate in the clemency process.”
Montgomery is the ninth federal prisoner scheduled for execution since the Department of Justice resumed capital punishment in July after a roughly two-decade hiatus.
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