Last-minute stay of execution for only woman on death row in US

WARNING: graphic details of homicide

Michigan City: A federal judge in Indiana has blocked the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a convicted murderer and the only woman on federal death row in the United States, on mental health grounds.

The 11th hour ruling, granted late in the night, was based on evidence that she was unable to understand the government's rationale for her execution.

Lisa Montgomery in jail, in a photo provided by her lawyers.

The decision was later upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, pushing any new execution date into Joe Biden's administration unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

Montgomery, who was due to be killed by lethal injection within the next 24 hours, was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight-months pregnant.

In December 2004, Montgomery drove about 270 kilometres from her Kansas farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a puppy from Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder. She strangled Stinnett with a rope before performing a crude caesarean and fleeing with the baby.

Bobbie Jo Stinnett was 23 and eight-months pregnant when she was murdered by Lisa Montgomery. Credit:Maryville Daily Forum

She was arrested the next day after showing off the premature infant, Victoria Jo, who is now 16 years old and hasn’t spoken publicly about about the tragedy.

Tips had begun arriving about Montgomery, who had a history of faking pregnancies and suddenly had a baby. Randy Strong, the sheriff of Nodaway County, where the killing happened, hopped in an unmarked car with another officer. He learned while en route that the email address [email protected] that was used to set up the deadly meeting with Stinnett had been sent from a dial-up connection at Montgomery’s home.

“I absolutely knew I was walking into the killer's home,” recalled Strong, saying rat terriers ran around his feet as he approached her house. Like Stinnett, Montgomery also raised rat terriers.

US judge James Patrick Hanlon granted a stay of execution to allow the court to conduct a hearing to determine whether she is competent to be executed, according to a court filing made in the US district court of Southern District of Indiana.

Montgomery's lawyer, Kelley Henry, welcomed the judge's ruling and said the court was right to put a stop to her execution.

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

Montgomery's lawyers have asked for President Donald Trump's clemency, saying she committed her crime after a lifetime of being abused and raped. In a nearly 7000-page clemency petition filed last week, they asked Trump to commute Montgomery's sentence to life in prison.

The lawyers have said Montgomery admits her guilt but deserves clemency because she has long suffered severe mental illness, exacerbated by being repeatedly gang raped by her stepfather and his friends during an abusive childhood.

Reuters, AP

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