Only hours before the scheduled execution of Lisa Montgomery, a convicted murderer and the first woman to face a federal death penalty in nearly seven decades, a federal judge imposed a temporary stay late Monday, pending a review of mental eligibility.
A date for such a hearing was not immediately given, and prosecutors have filed a notice to appeal the decision.
Kelly Henry, a 52-year-old Montgomery lawyer, said she suffered from a severe mental illness that “ended during a lifetime of sexual assault suffered at the hands of caregivers.” Psychiatrists submitted an affidavit as part of her appeal claiming that she was unable to understand the basis of her execution.
“Mrs. Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence,” Henry said in a statement.
Montgomery’s execution, which was planned for Tuesday, was one of three scheduled by the Justice Department this week in the twilight of Trump’s presidency and days before President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Biden has suggested that he would ban the federal death penalty.
In December 2004, Montgomery, then-36 and living in Kansas, crossed state lines at the Missouri home of Bobby Joe Steinett, whom he met at a dog show, federal prosecutors said. Stinnett was eight months pregnant.
According to court documents, Montgomery strangled Stinnett with a rope and used a kitchen knife he had brought home. The girl narrowly survived. Montgomery tried to pass him off as his own, but was quickly arrested and later convicted by a jury and unanimously sentenced to death.
Montgomery is incarcerated at an all-female federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, where staff are trained to deal with mental health issues. Her lawyers say they are not arguing that she does not deserve to be punished, but rather that the jury never fully learned about her serious mental illnesses reported by doctors.
In a pardon petition of about 7,000 pages filed for President Donald Trump this month, his lawyers say his mother’s alcoholism caused him brain-damage and “caused incurable and significant mental disabilities.” He also detailed Montgomery’s claims of physical abuse, rape and torture at the hands of his stepfather and others, and sexual abuse by the mother.
The petition stated, “Everything about this case is very sad.” “As humans we want to get away. It is easy to call Mrs. Montgomery as evil and demon-like, as the government has. She is neither.”
Diane Mattingly, an older sister of Montgomery, told reporters last week that she also faced sexual abuse at home before being placed in foster care. She has been vocal in recent months to spare her sister’s life.
“I went to a place where I was loved and cared for and showed self-worth,” Mattingly said. “I had a good foundation. Lisa didn’t, and she broke. She literally broke.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the judge’s decision to stay hanged. In October, the agency described the case as a “particularly heinous” murder. Along with expressing support for Montgomery’s hanging, the Missouri community, where his victim gathered last month to recall Steinette.
The US government last killed a female prisoner in 1953, when Bonnie Brown Heidi of Missouri was sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing a young boy in a ransom plot.
Montgomery was initially scheduled to be executed in December, but a later date was delayed after his lawyers, who are based in Nashville, Tennessee, contracted the coronovirus to travel to Texas and work on his case did.
The proliferation of Kovid-19 in prisons, including the Terre Haute facility where all federal proceedings take place, sparked criticism over the reintroduction of the federal death penalty last year under the Trump administration, even as states Also prohibited hanging.
In addition to Montgomery’s execution, two other executions are scheduled to take place this week. So far, the administration has killed 10 people in the last seven months.