US executes first female prisoner in 70 years

Our Foreign Staff
Lisa Montgomery was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and cutting the baby from her womb - Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery via AP, File
Lisa Montgomery was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and cutting the baby from her womb - Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery via AP, File

The US government executed convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, on Wednesday after the Supreme Court cleared the last hurdle by overturning a stay.

Montgomery was the first female prisoner to be executed by the US government since 1953.

Challenges were fought across multiple federal courts on whether to allow the execution of Montgomery, 52, who was put to death by lethal injection of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate in the Justice Department's execution chamber at its prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Montgomery’s family and civil liberty groups had hoped to delay the execution until president-elect Joe Biden took office next week as he had pledged to end death penalty proceedings. Montgomery's execution was the first of 2021 by the federal government and the 11th since last year.

Two other executions scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been delayed by a federal judge to allow the condemned murderers to recover from Covid-19.

The US Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, cleared the way for her execution after overturning a stay by the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kelley Henry, Montgomery's lawyer, called the execution "vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power."

"No one can credibly dispute Mrs Montgomery's long-standing debilitating mental disease - diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons' own doctors," Ms Henry said in a statement.

Montgomery was convicted in 2007 in Missouri of kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight months pregnant.

Montgomery cut Ms Stinnett's fetus from the womb. The child survived.

As the execution process began, asked by a female executioner if she had any last words, Montgomery responded in a quiet, muffled voice, "No," according to a reporter who served as a media witness.

Federal executions had been on pause for 17 years and only three men had been executed by the federal government since 1963 until the practice resumed last year under President Donald Trump, whose outspoken support for capital punishment long predates his entry into politics.

Montgomery's lawyers asked for Mr Trump's clemency last week, saying she committed her crime after a childhood in which she was abused and repeatedly raped by her stepfather and his friends, and so should instead face life in prison.

The American Civil Liberties Union and some liberal lawmakers had previously opposed the government's plans to execute Montgomery, with ACLU saying her life had been "marred by unthinkable trauma that resulted in documented brain damage and mental illness."