Lisa Montgomery was scheduled to be executed tonight at the federal prison in Terre Haute. She would be the first woman executed in the United States in nearly seven decades. But at the last moment, a federal judge for the Southern District of Indiana stepped in and issued a stay on the order. Judge Patrick Hanlon, a Trump appointee, was convinced by the defense that the prisoner’s mental health required further evaluation before the sentence could be carried out. This delay will likely push Montgovery’s execution date out past the end of Trump’s presidency, ending a string of federal executions over the past year. At least for now, Montgomery will live to see a few more sunrises, or perhaps escape her court-ordered fate indefinitely. (Associated Press)
Judge Patrick Hanlon granted the stay late Monday, citing the need to determine Montgomery’s mental competence, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. Lisa Montgomery faced execution Tuesday at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, just eight days before President-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, takes office…
Montgomery’s lawyers, though, have argued that sexual abuse during Montgomery’s childhood led to mental illness. Attorney Kelley Henry spoke in favor of Monday’s decision, saying in a statement to the Capital-Journal that “Mrs. Montgomery has brain damage and severe mental illness that was exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers.”
Her stepfather denied the sexual abuse in videotaped testimony and said he didn’t have a good memory when confronted with a transcript of a divorce proceeding in which he admitted some physical abuse. Her mother testified that she never filed a police complaint because he had threatened her and her children.
It certainly sounds like Lisa Montgomery had a tough life growing up, at least according to the picture being painted by the defense. But is any ensuing mental imbalance sufficient to do away with the sentence she received?
Keep in mind that we’re talking about a horror show that dates back to sixteen years ago. Montgomery was living on a farm in Melvern, Kansas and she had already established a reputation among her neighbors for being rather “odd.” She faked being pregnant a number of times, seemingly obsessed with the idea of having children. Then one day she showed up with a brand new baby girl, proudly showing her off to her neighbors. But the woman had never even appeared to be pregnant. That sent up some red flags.
It turned out that Lisa Montgomery had driven to Skidmore, Missouri to meet with Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder, on the pretense of buying a puppy. Stinnett was nine months pregnant at the time, a fact that Montgomery allegedly knew from meeting Stinnett at some local dog shows. She wound up strangling Stinnett to death with a rope and then cut her baby out of her body and took it back home.
Does that make her crazy? Those are clearly not the actions of a sane person. But is she too crazy to understand the nature of the crime she committed and the consequences that her actions bear? That seems to be the ongoing debate. She was sentenced to death for that horrific act and now pretty much all of her appeals have run out. The defense has never attempted to claim that Montgomery didn’t kill Stinnett, slash open her corpse and steal the baby. They’ve just said that she’s too mentally deficient to be put to death.
But the evidence presented at the trial seemed to show that Montgomery was actually quite cagey. She had researched caesareans online and even ordered a birthing kit. A pending court case with her ex-husband might have gone in her favor if she could show that she was a new mother. It really does sound as if she had thought everything through and hatched a plan all on her own. How out of touch with reality could she have been?
That’s up to the judge now, along with the medical professional evaluating her. But if she can hold on for another week or two, it’s possible that Joe Biden will work to once again put a freeze on federal executions. If that’s the case, Montgomery’s reprieve may last the rest of her natural life.