A Kansas woman was executed for strangling an expectant mother and cutting the baby from her womb, the first time in nearly 70 years that the US government has put to death a female inmate.
Lisa Montgomery, 52, was pronounced dead at 1:31am (06:31 GMT) on Wednesday after receiving a lethal injection of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, at a 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.
“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight,” Montgomery’s lawyer Kelley Henry said in a statement. “Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame.”
Montgomery’s legal team said she suffered “sexual torture”, including gang rapes, as a child, permanently scarring her emotionally and exacerbating mental health issues that ran in her family.
“The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman,” Henry said. “Lisa Montgomery’s execution was far from justice.”
The execution 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.
Montgomery killed 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife. Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own.
An appeals court granted Montgomery a stay of execution on Tuesday, shortly after another appeals court lifted an Indiana judge’s ruling that found she was likely mentally ill and could not comprehend she would be put to death. But both appeals were lifted, allowing the execution of the only female on federal death row to go forward.
“I don’t believe she has any rational comprehension of what’s going on at all,” Henry said on Tuesday morning.
At trial, prosecutors accused Montgomery of faking mental illness, noting her killing of Stinnett was premeditated and included meticulous planning, including online research on how to perform a caesarean section.
Henry baulked at that idea, citing extensive testing and brain scans that supported the diagnosis of mental illness.
“You can’t fake brain scans that show the brain damage,” she said.
Henry said the issue at the core of the legal arguments are not whether she knew the killing was wrong in 2004, but whether she fully grasps why she is slated to be executed now.
In his ruling on a stay, US District Judge James Patrick Hanlon cited defence experts who alleged Montgomery suffered from depression, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Montgomery, the judge wrote, also suffered around the time of the killing from an extremely rare condition called pseudocyesis, in which a woman’s false belief she is pregnant triggers hormonal and physical changes as if she were actually pregnant.
Montgomery also experienced delusions and hallucinations, believing God spoke with her through connect-the-dot puzzles, the judge said, citing defence experts.
“The record before the court contains ample evidence that Ms Montgomery’s current mental state is so divorced from reality that she cannot rationally understand the government’s rationale for her execution,” the judge said.
The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Brown Heady on December 18, 1953, for the kidnapping and murder of a six-year-old boy in Missouri.
The last woman executed by a state was Kelly Gissendaner, 47, on September 30, 2015, in Georgia. She was convicted of murder in the 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.