KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Early Wednesday, the federal government executed Lisa Montgomery, a Kansas woman convicted of murdering a pregnant Missouri woman and cutting her baby from her womb.
She was the first woman put to death by the federal government in more than 60 years.
Several judges granted Montgomery a stay of execution; the first came late Monday, just hours before she was originally scheduled to be put to death. But on Tuesday, an appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected each of them one by one.
Montgomery was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. EST Wednesday after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Family of the victim, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, did not speak to reporters or provide a written statement afterward.
“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight,” Kelley Henry, one of Montgomery’s attorneys, said in a statement. “Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame.”
The 52-year-old was convicted for killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in 2004.
She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife. Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own. She was taken into custody the next day.
That baby who Montgomery cut from Stinnett’s womb and detectives rescued just turned 16. She has never spoken publicly, and the family has asked for privacy.
Details of the crime at times left jurors in tears during Montgomery’s trial.
Her legal team argued she is not mentally competent and should not be executed. They said she suffered “sexual torture,” including gang rapes, as a child, permanently scarring her emotionally and exacerbating mental-health issues that ran in her family.
But at trial, prosecutors accused her of faking her mental illness, arguing that the murder of Stinnett was premeditated and included meticulous planning, including online research on how to perform a C-section.
Her attorney Kelley Henry balked at that idea, citing extensive testing and brain scans that supported the diagnosis of mental illness.
Henry said the core of the legal arguments is not whether she knew the killing was wrong in 2004 but whether she fully grasps why she’s slated to be executed now.
“I don’t believe she has any rational comprehension of what’s going on at all,” Henry told The Associated Press.
And even hours before her scheduled execution, Montgomery’s attorneys continuously argued that she isn’t mentally competent and, therefore, should not be put to death.
Women’s groups and anti-death penalty organizations have been petitioning for months to put a stop to the execution, and a group of protesters gathered outside the prison in Terre Haute.
Still, the Supreme Court denied appeals to delay the execution anymore.
The government has acknowledged Montgomery’s mental issues but disputes that she can’t comprehend that she is scheduled for execution for killing another person.
President Donald Trump resumed federal executions in July after 17-year pause. Ten other federal inmates have since been put to death since then.
Montgomery’s will likely be one of the last federal executions before President-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, is sworn-in next week. Two other executions set for later this week were halted because the inmates tested positive for COVID-19.
The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Brown Heady on Dec. 18, 1953, for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Missouri.
The last woman executed by a state was Kelly Gissendaner, 47, on Sept. 30, 2015, in Georgia. She was convicted of murder in the 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.