TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Lisa Montgomery had been set to be executed by the federal government Tuesday evening, but a series of fast-moving appeals dela
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Lisa Montgomery had been set to be executed by the federal government Tuesday evening, but a series of fast-moving appeals delayed her death.
The U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit declined to stay her execution less than 24 hours after a federal judge in Indiana granted a stay in her execution over concerns about her deteriorating mental health.
Then, Tuesday afternoon, a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted another stay, throwing Montgomery’s execution into question. Just after 7 p.m. Tuesday, her fate remained uncertain, pending additional Supreme Court orders.
Tuesday evening, the high court lifted the stay issued by the U.S.Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but the Eighth Circuit stay remained in place.
Montgomery was on track to become the first woman executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years.
Two other executions set for later this week also were halted because the inmates tested positive for COVID-19. The executions were to be the last before President-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, is sworn-in next week.
Montgomery’s attorneys have said she endured severe physical and sexual abuse beginning in her childhood, and that she suffers from serious mental illness. Late Monday night, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Hanlon granted a stay to halt the execution, citing the need to determine Montgomery’s mental competence, according to attorneys.
By Tuesday afternoon, that stay had been undone. Three judges with the higher appeals court reversed Judge Hanlon’s order, saying that Montgomery’s attorneys waited too long to bring their request for an execution stay to federal court. They also said that declarations attorneys used from three experts about the state of Montgomery’s mental health relied on outdated information. Two of the experts had last seen Montgomery in 2016, and the other last saw her in 2010, according to the judges.
In 2004, Montgomery drove from her Melvern, Kansas, farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a rat terrier puppy from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder. She strangled Stinnett with a rope before performing a crude cesarean and fleeing with the baby.
There are two more outstanding petitions in Montgomery’s case that could still alter her fate.
On Dec. 24 Montgomery’s lawyers asked President Donald Trump to commute her death sentence to life in prison without parole. In their clemency petition, they describe the severe trauma that shadowed Montgomery’s childhood, and allege that she was not effectively represented by lawyers who first took on her case after the crime was committed.
On Jan. 9, Montgomery’s lawyers submitted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the justices stay her death sentence. The petition is an appeal of an earlier case out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the court ruled that the federal government acted against regulation when it scheduled Montgomery’s execution for Jan. 12 despite an outstanding court order staying her execution.
That ruling fell apart after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed it, prompting Montgomery’s lawyers to now take it up with the Supreme Court.
A federal judge for the U.S. District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling 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.
Contributing: Rafael Garcia, Topeka Capital-Journal; The Associated Press.
Contact IndyStar reporter Elizabeth DePompei at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @edepompei.