Judge Delays Execution Of Only Woman On Federal Death Row

Lisa M. Montgomery's lawyers are sick with COVID-19 after visiting her in prison.
Lawyers for Lisa M. Montgomery — the only woman on federal death row — have not been able to prepare her clemency application because they are sick with COVID-19.
Lawyers for Lisa M. Montgomery — the only woman on federal death row — have not been able to prepare her clemency application because they are sick with COVID-19.

A federal judge has temporarily stayed the execution of Lisa M. Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row.

Montgomery was scheduled to be put to death on Dec. 8. Her lawyers asked the court for a delay after they contracted the coronavirus in the midst of preparing her clemency petition.

The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss in Washington, D.C., blocks the government from carrying out her execution before Dec. 31. The injunction was entered into a lawsuit filed on behalf of Montgomery by Cornell Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Montgomery, 52, was a victim of extreme childhood abuse, including incest and sex trafficking, and suffers from serious mental illnesses, according to her lawyers and mental health professionals who have examined her. She was sentenced to death in 2007 for killing a pregnant woman and kidnapping the baby she was carrying, a crime her lawyers say occurred during a psychotic episode.

In October, Montgomery’s lawyers, Amy Harwell and Kelley Henry, learned their client was scheduled for execution by lethal injection at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Dec. 8. They immediately began traveling to visit her at a women’s medical prison in Fort Worth, Texas, to prepare her clemency application.

Both women contracted the coronavirus soon afterward and have been unable to work since. They are experiencing severe symptoms including issues with memory and concentration, according to a doctor who evaluated their illnesses.

“The district court’s ruling gives Lisa Montgomery a meaningful opportunity to prepare and present a clemency application after her attorneys recover from COVID,” said Sandra Babcock, clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School, who argued the case. “Mrs. Montgomery’s case presents compelling grounds for clemency, including her history as a victim of gang rape, incest, and child sex trafficking, as well as her severe mental illness. She will now have the opportunity to present this evidence to the President with a request that he commute her sentence to life imprisonment.”

Montgomery’s lawyers have also filed a petition with the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice asking President Donald Trump to delay their client’s execution until they are well enough to prepare her clemency application.

“We should not have to choose between our lives and our client’s life,” they wrote to Trump. “We did not ask to be put in this situation. We did our jobs and got sick.”

The Trump administration restarted federal executions this summer after an almost 20-year lapse. Three more executions, including Montgomery’s, are scheduled to take place before Trump leaves office. President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to take office on Jan. 20, 2021, has said he will work to end the federal death penalty.

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