The US Supreme Court cleared the way Wednesday for the first execution of a woman in decades — despite doubts about her mental state — after the government of President Donald Trump pushed for the application of the death penalty.
Lisa Montgomery, 52, is set to receive a lethal injection later Wednesday in Terre Haute, Indiana, after a series of legal rulings, becoming the first woman to be executed by federal authorities since 1953.
The Court ruled in favour of the Trump administration, giving the Bureau of Prisons the authority to proceed with her execution.
Montgomery’s lawyers do not deny the seriousness of her crime: in 2004, she killed a pregnant 23-year-old woman in order to steal her baby.
But her lawyer Kelley Henry, in a statement, called the decision a “vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power.”
Unable to have a child, Montgomery carefully identified her victim — 23-year-old dog breeder Bobbie Jo Stinnett — online.
Under the guise of buying a puppy, Montgomery went to Stinnett’s home, where she strangled her to death and cut the baby from her body. She left Stinnett dead in a pool of blood.
In 2007, she was convicted of kidnapping resulting in death and handed a death sentence.
Her defenders believe that she suffers from severe mental health issues stemming from the abuse she suffered as a child. According to them, she does not understand the meaning of her sentence, a prerequisite for execution.
On Monday evening, a federal judge granted the defence a victory, ordering a stay of execution to allow time to assess Montgomery’s mental state.
“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 ruling stated.
But an appeals court overturned the decision on Tuesday, leaving it up to the US Supreme Court to decide.
– Clemency plea ignored –
Trump, like his many of his conservative constituents, is a strong supporter of the death penalty and has ignored a plea for clemency from Montgomery’s supporters.
Despite the decline of capital punishment in the US and around the world, Trump’s administration resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus and has been carrying them out at an unprecedented rate ever since.
Since the summer, 10 Americans have died by lethal injection in Terre Haute. In addition to Montgomery, two men are scheduled for federal execution this week. Their executions were stayed on Tuesday due to them having contracted Covid-19.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on Monday announced the introduction of legislation to end federal executions. It could be passed once Biden takes office next week and Democrats regain control of the Senate.
In a scathing statement, Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun known for her activism against the death penalty, spoke over the weekend of federal prosecutors “working all day and through the nights” to counter the appeals of federal inmates.
“You may not have to see the fear or smell the sweat in the execution chamber, but your hand is in this,” Prejean wrote, urging them to “just say ‘no’ this week to working to get one woman and two men executed the week before the Inauguration” of Biden.
Former guards of the penitentiary in Terre Haute have written to the Justice Department to request that the executions be postponed until the penitentiary staff are vaccinated against Covid-19.
Between the executioners, guards, witnesses, and lawyers, an execution assembles dozens of people in a closed environment, which is conducive to the spread of the virus.
US states, including the deeply conservative Texas, have suspended executions for months due to the pandemic — unlike the federal government, which has pushed to carry out many before Trump leaves power.