U.S. resets execution date for only woman on federal death row

FILE PHOTO: Lisa Montgomery, a prison inmate scheduled for execution, poses at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) Fort Worth
Jonathan Allen

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice has rescheduled the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a convicted murderer and the only woman on federal death row, to take place on Jan. 12, a few days before Joe Biden is due to be inaugurated as president of the United States.

Last week, a federal judge temporarily delayed the execution of Montgomery, which had been set for Dec. 8, to allow her two lead lawyers time to recover from COVID-19 in order to file a clemency petition asking President Donald Trump to commute the sentence to life in prison.

In his order, Judge Randolph Moss of the U.S. District Court in Washington ordered the Justice Department to not execute Montgomery before Dec. 31. The Justice Department filed a notice of the new Jan. 12 execution date with the court on Monday.

Trump's administration resumed carrying out executions earlier this year after a 17-year hiatus, although a dwindling number of state governments have continued to do so throughout.

The federal government executed eight convicted murderers this year, the most federal executions in a single year since at least the 1920s, according to a database compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Montgomery would be the first women to be executed by the federal government since 1953.

Besides that of Montgomery, Trump's administration has scheduled four other executions before the Jan. 20 inauguration following the Nov. 3 elections.

Biden, once a supporter of capital punishment, has said he will work as president to end the federal death penalty.

Montgomery, 52, was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant. Montgomery butchered Stinnett to cut the fetus from her womb. The child survived.

Montgomery's lawyers say Montgomery admits her guilt but deserves clemency because she has long suffered severe mental illness, exacerbated by being gang raped by her stepfather and his friends during an abusive childhood.

Montgomery is being held at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas, a prison for inmates with mental illness. Her lawyers say that she has been dressed in a "suicide smock" and given only a crayon with which to write.

"Now, despite Lisa's deteriorating mental health and a much deeper understanding of the trauma she endured, the government plans to kill her," Sandra Babcock, one of Montgomery's attorneys, said in a statement. "No other woman has been executed for a similar crime, because most prosecutors have recognized that it is inevitably the product of trauma and mental illness."

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)