The execution of Lisa Montgomery – who was convicted in 2007 of strangling a pregnant woman to death and cutting the baby out of the womb to pass it off as her own – had been pushed back from December 8 after her lawyers were infected with coronavirus. The Bureau of Prisons pushed back the execution to January 12, but US District Court Judge Randolph Moss ruled on Thursday that the rescheduling was unlawful because his stay order was still in place.
The order bars federal officials from rescheduling the execution until at least January 1, and given that US Department of Justice guidelines require inmates to be notified of their execution dates at least 20 days in advance, the new date would likely come after Biden is scheduled to take office at noon on January 20. That means Biden, who has pledged to abolish the death penalty, would be able to block Montgomery from being executed.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” said journalist Rachel Louise Snyder, who last week wrote a New York Times opinion piece about Montgomery’s case. Another journalist who wrote about Montgomery, Huffington Post’s Melissa Jeltsen, said the delay ruling was “joyful news on this Christmas Day.”
Snyder, Jeltsen and other advocates for Montgomery, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have pointed to her mental illness and the sexual and physical abuse she had suffered as a child and young woman as reasons the death penalty never should have been ordered in her case.
“No one should be executed due to poor lawyering,” the ACLU said. “No one should be executed after a lifetime of experiencing gender-based violence. No one should be executed, period.”
Trump disagreed. He resumed federal executions in July, the first in 17 years, and Montgomery would have been the first female executed by the feds in 67 years. Ten executions have been carried out since July, and before Thursday’s order by Moss, three more were slated to be done before Biden took office.
Montgomery’s crimes appeared to have the sort of special circumstances that qualify a murder as a potential death-penalty case. Prosecutors alleged that Montgomery, then 36, used an alias when contacting a 23-year-old Missouri woman, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, and made plans to meet her the next day about some puppies that Stinnett had advertised to sell. She traveled from Kansas to Stinnett’s house, and the women played with the puppies outside.
Montgomery then attacked Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and strangled her with a cord until she was unconscious. She then used a kitchen knife to cut open Stinnett’s abdomen, at which point the victim regained consciousness. Montgomery strangled her again, killing her, and cut the baby out of her body. She took the baby back to Kansas. Montgomery convinced her husband that she had gone into labor while shopping and had given birth at a clinic, where she asked him to pick up her and the baby.
In light of the facts of Montgomery’s case, some social media users were taken aback by those who celebrated the delay in her sentence being carried out. “Joyful, my ass,” one observer tweeted. “She’s an absolute monster.” Another critic blasted Jeltsen, saying, “You know what her crime is, yet you still wrote this.” Still another quipped sarcastically: “Pregnant women everywhere rejoice.”
Isaac Arnsdorf, a ProPublica journalist who has called the recent spate of federal executions a “last-minute killing spree,” said the Montgomery case was an example of the administration’s “rush to execute.” But commenters argued Montgomery fully earned her death sentence with her horrific crime. “You are truly reprehensible for defending someone who has abdicated their right to live,” one Twitter user said. “You can go straight to hell and take Montgomery with you.”
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