TERRE HAUTE, INDIANA (AP) — A Kansas woman was executed yesterday for strangling an expectant mother in Missouri and cutting the baby from her womb, the first time in nearly seven decades that the United States (US) government has put to death a female inmate.
Lisa Montgomery, 52, was pronounced dead at 1.31am after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was the 11th prisoner to receive a lethal injection there since July when US President Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, resumed federal executions following 17 years without one.
It 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.
But a federal judge for the District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling on Tuesday. Johnson, convicted of killing seven people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, and Higgs, convicted of ordering the murders of three women in Maryland, both tested positive for COVID-19 last month. 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 couldn’t 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.
As the only woman on federal death row, Montgomery had been held in a federal prison in Texas and was brought to Terre Haute on Monday night. At trial, prosecutors accused Montgomery of faking mental illness, noting that her killing of Stinnett was premeditated and included meticulous planning, including online research on how to perform a C-section.
Henry balked at that idea, citing extensive testing and brain scans that supported the diagnosis of mental illness.
She 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.