A judge granted a stay of an American who was due to become the first woman to be executed by federal authorities in 70 years on Tuesday, in one of the last unpublished acts of the presidency of Donald Trump.
Inmate in a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, Lisa Montgomery, 52, was scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Tuesday night, 16 years after killing a pregnant woman in order to steal her fetus.
But Judge James Hanlon of the Southern District of Indiana on Monday ordered a stay of his execution.
Attorneys for the convict argued that Lisa Montgomery was not in a mental state compatible with her execution. She suffers from mental disorders due to gang rape and violence suffered as a child.
“The information presented to the court contains ample evidence that Madame Montgomery’s current mental state is so far removed from reality that she can not rationally understand the government ‘s motive for her execution”, wrote the judge in his decision.
The judge said the court would set a date for a subsequent hearing to assess his mental state.
Request for clemency by its defenders
In 2004, unable to have a new child, Lisa Montgomery spotted her victim, a dog breeder, on the internet and came to her home in Missouri under the pretext of buying her a terrier.
Instead, she had strangled her, opened her womb, took the baby – who survived – and abandoned the young woman bathing in a pool of blood.
Without denying the gravity of his crime, his supporters last week sent a request for clemency to the Republican president.
Lisa Montgomery suffers from mental disorders due to gang rape and violence suffered as a child, they said, asking her to commute her sentence to life imprisonment.
A staunch supporter of capital punishment, like his most conservative voters, the Republican billionaire has so far failed to respond to their request.
Return of federal executions
Despite the decline in the death penalty in the United States and around the world, its administration resumed in July, after 17 years of hiatus, with federal executions and has since chained them at an unprecedented rate.
Ten Americans have received lethal injections in Terre Haute since the summer and the government plans, after Ms. Montgomery, to execute two black men this week.
“In the final hours of the Trump presidency, there is a mad rush to execute people who have been on death row for years if not decades. It’s insane ”, Democrat Senator Dick Durbin denounced Monday on NPR radio, announcing the introduction of a law aimed at ending federal executions.
Former prison guards in Terre Haute wrote to Acting Justice Minister Jeffrey Rosen asking him to postpone these executions “Until prison staff are vaccinated against Covid-19”.
Between executioners, guards, witnesses, lawyers … an execution mobilizes dozens of people in a closed environment, conducive to the spread of the virus. For this reason, US states, including the very repressive Texas, have suspended executions for months.
On the contrary, the government of Donald Trump has shown its determination to proceed as quickly as possible, before he leaves power.
Biden opposed to the death penalty
In November, Lisa Montgomery’s lawyers having tested positive for Covid-19, justice had banned execution in 2020. While the slightest postponement usually takes several weeks, the administration quickly set a new date, from January 12.
A judge found the maneuver rushed and set aside that date, but the Justice Department appealed and won.
In a scathing statement, Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun known for her fight against the death penalty, addressed this weekend to jurists who have “Worked day and night” to counter appeals from federal convicts in recent months.
“You may not smell of sweat in the execution chamber” but you are responsible for it just like the executioners, she wrote to them, calling them to “Say no to the execution of a woman and two men within a week of taking the oath” of Joe Biden.
The Democrat, who is to be invested on January 20, is opposed to the death penalty and vowed to work with Congress, now controlled by his party, to try to suppress it at the federal level.
If Ms. Montgomery’s lawyers, who have lodged a final appeal, manage to obtain a new stay, she could therefore escape execution.