A federal judge said the Justice Department had illegally rescheduled the execution of the only woman on federal death row, potentially prompting the Trump administration to order the execution after President-elect Joe Biden took office.
US District Court Judge Randolph Moss also overturned a decision by the director of the Prison Bureau, which set the date for Lisa Montgomery’s execution to January 12. It was previously assumed that Montgomery would be executed at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana this month, but Moss postponed the execution after her lawyers contracted the coronavirus while visiting her client and asked him to extend the time to file a clemency petition.
Moss banned the Department of Prisons from carrying out executions of Lisa Montgomery until the end of the year, and officials moved the date of her execution to January 12. But on Wednesday, Moss ruled that the agency was also prohibited from postponing the date while the grace period was in effect.
“The Court accordingly concludes that the Director’s order to set a new execution date for the duration of the Court“ is not in accordance with the law, ”Moss wrote.
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the ruling, the Prison Authority cannot postpone Montgomery’s execution until at least January 1. As a general rule, in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Justice, a prisoner sentenced to death must be notified at least 20 days prior to execution. Due to the judge’s order, if the Justice Department decides to move the date to January, it could mean the execution will be ordered after Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
A Biden spokesman told The Associated Press that the president-elect “opposes the death penalty now and in the future” and will work to end its use. But Biden’s representatives did not say if the executions would be suspended immediately after Biden took office.
Montgomery was convicted of the murder of 23-year-old Bobby Joe Stinnett in Skidmore, northwestern Missouri, in December 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut out the baby’s womb with a kitchen knife, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Montgomery removed the baby from Stinnett’s body, took the baby with her, and tried to pass the girl off as hers. Montgomery’s lawyers argued that their client was suffering from a serious mental illness.
“Given the severity of Ms. Montgomery’s mental illness, the sexual and physical torture she suffered throughout her life, and the link between her trauma and her crimes, we are asking President Trump to pardon her and commute her sentence to life imprisonment. “- said in the statement of one of Montgomery’s lawyers, Sandra Babcock.
Two other federal prisoners are due to be executed in January, but they have tested positive for the coronavirus and their lawyers are also seeking a delay in execution.