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U.S. Government Executes First Woman Prisoner Since 1953 (3)

Jan. 13, 2021, 5:12 AM; Updated: Jan. 13, 2021, 7:16 AM

The Trump administration carried out the first federal execution of a woman since 1953, after a divided Supreme Court sided with the government during a late night of frenzied litigation.

Lisa Montgomery’s lethal injection in the Terre Haute, Ind., federal death chamber early Wednesday is the Justice Department’s 11th execution since resuming capital punishment in July after a 17-year break. It’s also the latest in a series of lame-duck period executions, which previously hadn’t occurred since the late 19th century.

Montgomery was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m., according to the Associated Press.

Two more executions are scheduled this week—on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15—before Joe Biden, who ran on an anti-death penalty platform, is inaugurated next week.

The high court majority sided with the government on several claims against Montgomery, including ones related to her mental competency and the government’s alleged violation of federal law in setting her execution date. The final court orders were issued around midnight Tuesday heading into Wednesday.

Democratic-appointed Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan noted their dissent from two of the orders, including one rejecting Montgomery’s mental competency stay.

Montgomery attorney Kelley Henry said in a statement that “the craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame.”

Henry and another of Montgomery’s lawyers fell ill with Covid-19 while working on the case. That led to a judge delaying Montgomery’s prior Dec. 8 execution date until Dec. 31, so that her lawyers could have more time to work on her clemency effort.

President Trump showed no interest in granting clemency to the woman who murdered Bobbie Jo Stinnett in what DOJ called “one of the most horrific crimes imaginable: strangling a pregnant mother to death and cutting her premature baby out of her stomach to kidnap the child.”

In seeking clemency, Montgomery’s legal team pointed to her history as a victim of gang rape, incest, and child sex trafficking, and her severe mental illness.

The federal government last executed women in 1953—in both instances with men. Bonnie Brown Heady and Carl Austin Hall were executed Dec. 18 at the Missouri State Penitentiary gas chamber, for the kidnapping and murder of Bobby Greenlease. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed June 19 by electrocution at New York State’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility, for Soviet espionage.

The case is Montgomery v. Rosen, U.S., No. 20-922, Rosen v. Montgomery, U.S., No. 20A122 Montgomery v. Warden of USP Terre Haute, et al., U.S., No. 20A124 United States v. Montgomery, U.S., No. 20A125.

(Adds DOJ brief.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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