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Photo: Counsel for Lisa Montgomery
The pleas for Lisa Montgomery's life have granted her a stay of execution for now. Photo: Counsel for Lisa Montgomery

Lisa Montgomery granted a stay of execution in her final hours

The first woman facing the death penalty in seven decades will now take part in a hearing to determine whether she is competent to be executed on mental health…

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The life of 52-year old convicted murderer, Lisa Montgomery, has been spared, just hours before she was scheduled to be executed through lethal injection. 

Montgomery is the first woman facing the federal death penalty in nearly seven decades, but a federal judge put a temporary halt on her execution.

The ruling from U.S District Judge James Hanlon, permits the court to conduct a hearing to ascertain whether Montgomery is competent to be executed on mental health grounds.

A date has yet to be set for the competency hearing and the U.S government filed a brief appeal for the stay of execution. Montgomery’s lawyers have also filed a clemency petition asking President Trump to commute her sentence to life in prison. 

In December 2004, Montgomery crossed state lines from Kansas to Missouri to the home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a woman she met at a dog show. 

Montgomery strangled Stinnett, who at the time was eight months pregnant, and used a kitchen knife to remove the fetus.

The baby girl survived and Montgomery tried to pass her off as her own, but she was quickly arrested and convicted by a jury and unanimously sentenced to death. 

Montgomery is currently incarcerated in an all-female prison in Fort Worth, Texas, where staff are trained to deal with mental health issues. 

Her lawyers never argued that she did not deserve punishment, but rather that the jury never bothered to fully understand the severity of her mental illnesses diagnosed by doctors. 

One of Montgomery’s attorneys, Kelley Henry, said that her client suffers from severe mental illness that was “exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers.”

“Mrs. Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence,” Henry said in a statement. 

Henry cited the Eighth Amendment in her argument, which guarantees that the punishments for crimes are not “excessive, cruel or unusual.” 

“The Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of people like Mrs. Montgomery who, due to their severe mental illness or brain damage, do not understand the basis for their executions,” she said. 

Huffington Post reporter, Melissa Jeltsen, tweeted about the case on the morning of Jan. 12, after talking to Henry on the phone. To give more context to Montgomery’s story, Jeltsen emphasized that fetal abduction is extremely rare and it typically only occurs as a product of several mental illnesses.

“It is perpetrated almost exclusively by women with documented mental health conditions. Like Lisa,” she wrote. 

Jeltsen also said that Montgomery has confessed to the crime and expressed remorse for it, a statement that was backed up by Amy Harwell, a federal public defender in Tennessee who is working on Montgomery’s case. 

“Mrs. Montgomery was psychotic at the time of the crime. She has always accepted responsibility. This is someone who was deeply remorseful, once she became appropriately medicated and had full contact with reality, although that is a situation that waxes and wanes,” Harwell explained. 

Diane Mattingly, Montgomery’s older sister, told reporters last week that she also suffered sexual abuse in the home before she was placed in foster care. Over the last few months, Mattingly has been pleading for her sister’s life to be spared. 

“I went into a place where I was loved and cared for and shown self-worth. I had a good foundation. Lisa did not, and she broke. She literally broke,” Mattingly said. 

Mattingly told Huffington Post that she feels immense guilt about leaving her sister behind in that broken home, and feels that if she too had been rescued, that everything would have turned out differently. 

“She has been let down over and over and over again by people in authority, people who were supposed to be caretakers for her. I am begging that somebody will finally stand up for her and say, she’s been punished enough,” she said.

It’s very possible that Lisa will never face execution, as Biden said he wants to work with Congress to pass a law to eliminate capital punishment at the federal level. But for the time being, Montgomery’s case is still up in the air.

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