A decision by a federal judge to delay the execution of the only woman on federal death row could push the new date into the early days of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s administration, who has said that he would work to end the federal government. Capital punishment.
The woman, Lisa Montgomery, was due to be executed on December 8, but that date was delayed after two of her lawyers tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after going to a federal prison in Texas to visit her in November.
If Ms Montgomery’s life were spared in the series of delays caused by the infection of her lawyers, it would be a rare reprieve for a prisoner of a virus that has swept through prisons, infecting inmates crammed into spaces shared.
But if the Justice Department appeals the ruling, a higher court would most likely overturn it. Since the Supreme Court paved the way for federal executions in June after a 17-year hiatus, judges have been largely unresponsive to calls for stays of federal inmates to be executed.
The Department of Justice had postponed his execution until January 12, but Judge Randolph D. Moss of the District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday ruled that the January execution date was illegally postponed due to an order reprieve, which had been issued due to the illnesses of his lawyers were still relevant.
Ms Montgomery, of Melvern, Kan., Was convicted in 2008 of killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then 23 and eight months pregnant, and cutting a baby off her abdomen.
She tried to pass Ms. Stinnett’s baby off as her own before she admitted to the crime. A jury found her guilty of kidnapping resulting in death in Missouri federal court.
Ms Montgomery’s lawyers said she suffered from a serious mental illness, inherited from both parents and made worse by the abuse she suffered as a child, including sex trafficking by her mother and gang rape by men.
Federal enforcement rules state that an inmate will be notified of his execution date at least 20 days in advance. However, when the postponed date is less than 20 days from the previous execution date, the inmate should only be notified “as soon as possible”.
The stay of Ms. Montgomery’s case prevented the government from executing her before December 31. How long the government will wait to execute it after this point remains unclear. Once Mr. Biden is sworn in on January 20, Ms. Montgomery’s chances of execution become increasingly unlikely.
Representatives for Mr Biden did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he would intervene in Ms Montgomery’s case if her execution fell within his purview. A spokesperson for the president-elect told The Associated Press that Mr. Biden “opposes the death penalty now and in the future.”
If Ms. Montgomery is executed, it would be the first federal execution of a woman since 1953, when Bonnie Heady was killed in a gas chamber for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Kansas City, N. Missouri. the federal administration resumed federal executions in July for the first time since 2003.
It would be “legally questionable” to execute Ms Montgomery before Jan. 20, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.
But, due to the Trump administration’s legal strategy of forcing “the courts to decide without proper scrutiny,” Mr. Dunham said, “no one can guess what this administration will attempt to do now.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The logistical challenges of the executions could also push Ms Montgomery’s execution further into Mr Biden’s presidency. She is expected to be transported from Texas to the federal correctional complex in Terre Haute, Indonesia, to face the death penalty. The executions also required a crew of dozens of workers, which is why Ms Montgomery’s death was scheduled for the same week as that of two other death row inmates.
The coronavirus has also introduced new problems for federal executions. There has been an outbreak in the Terre Haute complex, where at least 14 of some 50 men on death row have tested positive. The Justice Department is facing a trial of inmates at the Federal Correctional Complex which alleges executions – which bring workers, witnesses, lawyers and media personnel to the center – could expose them to the virus.
Ms Montgomery has not tested positive for the coronavirus. The two inmates who are scheduled to be executed the same week as his January date – Corey Johnson and Dustin John Higgs – have tested positive for the virus. Their lawyers are seeking to delay their executions because of their infections.
Sandra Babcock, one of Ms Montgomery’s lawyers, called on President Trump for help, asking in a statement on Christmas Eve that he “show him mercy and commute his sentence to life imprisonment.”
Mr Trump announced a number of pardons and commutations this week, pardoning 41 people and commuting the sentences of eight others in just two days. On Tuesday, he granted clemency to two men who had pleaded guilty in the Special Council’s investigation into Russia; four former US servicemen who have been convicted of charges related to the murder of Iraqi civilians; and three former members of Congress.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is also an adviser to the president, as well as two men – Paul Manafort and Roger J. Stone Jr. – who had refused to cooperate with the special council inquiry.
In light of the recent pardons bestowed on ‘war criminals and corrupt politicians,’ Mr Dunham said, ‘it would be a staggering statement if they chose to proceed with the execution of a critically ill and horribly ill-treated woman. “.
Marie Fazio and Hailey Fuchs contributed reporting.