Trump's last days in office marred by disregard for human life. Death penalty just another example.

Trump reinstated federal executions after nearly 20 years, with two slated for this week. When will the U.S. drop the practice and join other Western nations? If there's one thing that has defined the final days of the Trump administration, it's the lack of regard for human life. We saw that play out Wednesday after President Donald Trump incited rioters to bust through the U.S. Capitol and hunt down members of Congress.  Inciting a violent assault on the Capitol also displayed a disregard for democracy and the rule of law. This was the tragic finale of four years of failed federal leadership, and far from the only instance where the president’s disdain for human life has been demonstrated. His abject failure to provide the leadership necessary to deal effectively with the COVID-19 pandemic is beyond dispute, with the consequence being that the daily death count from COVID-19 has now surpassed that of 9/11. In the face of these unfolding tragedies, and at a time when the Trump

Trump administration executes Lisa Montgomery, only woman on federal death row and first woman executed by the U.S. in nearly 70 years

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration early Wednesday morning executed Lisa M. Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, whose death marked the first federal execution of a woman in nearly 70 years.

Ms. Montgomery, 52, was sentenced to death for murdering a pregnant woman in 2004 and abducting the unborn child, whom she claimed as her own. In pleas to spare her life, Ms. Montgomery’s supporters argued that a history of trauma and sexual abuse that marred her life contributed to the circumstances that led to the crime. Her case, unusual in part because so few women are sentenced to death, ignited debate over the role of offenders’ past trauma in criminal sentencing.

Despite a series of court orders that briefly blocked her execution, she was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement. Her death, by lethal injection, is the 11th execution since the Trump administration resumed use of federal capital punishment in July after a 17-year hiatus.

According to a spokesperson for the defense team, Ms. Montgomery was transported, fully shackled, from a federal medical center in Texas to Terre Haute on Monday night. The federal penitentiary where the vast majority of federal death row prisoners are housed is an all-male facility, and an official said in a court declaration that the Bureau of Prisons planned to house Ms. Montgomery at the execution facility, where she would be the only inmate.

Shortly before Ms. Montgomery’s death, a female prison staff member gently removed Ms. Montgomery’s face mask and asked if she had any last words, to which Ms. Montgomery responded, “No,” according to a report from a journalist in attendance.

Under a pseudonym, Ms. Montgomery — who had falsely told others that she was pregnant — expressed interest in buying a dog from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a rat terrier breeder in Skidmore, Mo. But after she arrived at Ms. Stinnett’s house, Ms. Montgomery strangled her, used a knife to cut her abdomen and extracted the fetus, then claimed the child as her own.

The baby girl lived and turned 16 last month on the anniversary of her mother’s death. At least some of those close to Ms. Stinnett or the case said Ms. Montgomery’s execution was a just conclusion to a crime that had haunted the northwest Missouri community for years.

Richard Chaney, 38, a childhood friend and classmate of Ms. Stinnett’s, recalled biking to the local gas station with her, describing how in high school she had a “huge crush” on the man who would later become her husband.

Dear Ms. Montgomery
Mr. Chaney rejected the idea that the abuse suffered by Ms. Montgomery should have led to her life being spared, saying many people endured trauma without committing heinous crimes. “You don’t see them out killing pregnant women and cutting babies out,” he said.

“I get, you know, people like, ‘Death penalty’s wrong,’ but at what point do you excuse something like this?” he asked, several days before Ms. Montgomery was put to death. “I think, you know, it’s not right always to say an eye for an eye, but I think the community’s hurt enough that it would definitely help with some closure.”

Still, Ms. Montgomery’s lawyers cited the repeated physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child in pleas for leniency, arguing that President Trump would affirm the experiences of abuse survivors by commuting her sentence to life imprisonment. Her mother forced her to “pay the bills” through sexual acts with various repairmen, and her stepfather regularly subjected her to sexual abuse, a clinical psychologist said in a court declaration filed by her defense team.

Women are scarce on death row in the United States. According to a quarterly report from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, just 2 percent of those inmates on death row are women. With Ms. Montgomery’s execution, there are now no women on federal death row.

The last women to be executed by the federal government were Bonnie Brown Heady for kidnapping and murder and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage, both in 1953.

Ms. Montgomery’s execution was originally scheduled for last month. But after two of her lawyers contracted the coronavirus, a judge delayed it, and the Justice Department rescheduled.

In her final days, Ms. Montgomery found some fleeting reprieve in the courts. Her lawyers had claimed that she was incompetent for execution, citing mental illness, neurological impairment and complex trauma. A federal judge in Indiana issued a stay on Monday night so that the court could conduct a hearing to determine her competency. But a panel on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that stay on Tuesday, writing that Ms. Montgomery’s claim could have been brought earlier. The judges also cited Supreme Court precedent, which emphasizes that last-minute stays of execution “should be the extreme exception, not the norm.”

Still, other court orders continued to block her execution well after the Bureau of Prisons’ tentatively scheduled execution time of 6 p.m. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a separate stay so that the court could hear her claim related to the Federal Death Penalty Act, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its own stay.

But the Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution to proceed, as it has done with the previous 10 inmates executed by the Trump administration. On Tuesday, the court overturned both stays, the remaining barriers to her execution, and rejected each of Ms. Montgomery’s requests for reprieve.

Death house, USP Terre Haute
In a lengthy statement early Wednesday morning, Ms. Montgomery’s longtime lawyer Kelley Henry maintained that the government violated the law by executing her client, who suffered from “debilitating mental disease.” Beyond the crime for which she expressed remorse and the abuse she endured, Ms. Henry said, Ms. Montgomery was a Christian who adored her family.

Ms. Henry — who tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after visiting Ms. Montgomery — also contended that the executions themselves, what she called “superspreader events,” demonstrated the administration’s “reckless disregard for human life of innocent citizens.”

“Because this administration was so afraid that the next one might choose life over death, they put the lives and health of U.S. citizens in grave danger,” she said, in part. “We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again.”

Lisa Montgomery | Find related content here

Two more federal inmates are scheduled for execution this week: Corey Johnson on Thursday and Dustin J. Higgs on Friday. A federal judge in the District of Columbia blocked their executions in a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that the government has already appealed.

If the prisoners do not succeed in their pleas for delays or clemency, their deaths could be the last federal executions for some time. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose inauguration is set for Jan. 20, has signaled his opposition to the federal death penalty.

Source: nytimes.com, Hailey Fuchs, January 13, 2021

Lisa Montgomery becomes 1st woman executed by feds in 67 years 

After a flurry of last-minute court orders, hours of uncertainty and 1 final plea to reconsider her competency, Lisa Montgomery became the 1st woman executed by the federal government in 67 years early Wednesday. 

Montgomery, 52, was executed by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute. Her time of death was 1:31 a.m., 7 1/2 hours after her originally scheduled time of execution, according to the Associated Press. 

As both sides filed appeal after appeal to tip the scales in their favor, Montgomery spent her final moments in a cell within the brick execution building just steps away from the execution chamber.

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Montgomery’s execution with a pair of orders issued just before midnight.

The high court lifted a stay of execution put in place by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and rejected a final stay application from Montgomery's lawyers.

Kelley Henry, Montgomery's federal public defender, expressed her disappointment in the day's events, saying the federal government violated the Constitution, federal law and its own regulation to put her client to death.

“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame," she said in a statement provided to IndyStar of the USA TODAY Network after midnight.

"Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution," Henry said. "The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway."

Montgomery's attorneys have said she endured severe physical and sexual abuse beginning in her childhood, and that she suffers from serious mental illness. Late Monday night, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Hanlon granted a stay to halt the execution, citing the need to determine Montgomery’s mental competence, according to attorneys.

Tuesday’s legal battles began when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit declined to stay her execution less than 24 hours after a federal judge in Indiana granted a stay in her execution over concerns about her deteriorating mental health.

On Tuesday afternoon a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted another stay, throwing Montgomery's execution further into question.

Around 8 p.m., the high court lifted the stay issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but the Eighth Circuit stay remained in place until the near-midnight decisions by the Supreme Court. 

A new SCOTUS: A.C. Barrett being sworn in, D. Trump, Justice Thomas
The Supreme Court repeatedly split along partisan lines, with liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan ruling in ways that would have granted Montgomery a reprieve. 

By Tuesday afternoon, that stay had been undone. Three judges with the higher appeals court reversed Judge Hanlon's order, saying that Montgomery's attorneys waited too long to bring their request for an execution stay to federal court. They also said that declarations attorneys used from 3 experts about the state of Montgomery's mental health relied on outdated information. 2 of the experts had last seen Montgomery in 2016, and the other last saw her in 2010, according to the judges. 

In 2004, Montgomery drove from her Melvern, Kansas, farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a rat terrier puppy from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder. She strangled Stinnett with a rope before performing a crude cesarean and fleeing with the baby. 

On Dec. 24 Montgomery’s lawyers asked Trump to commute her death sentence to life in prison without parole. In their clemency petition, they describe the severe trauma that shadowed Montgomery's childhood, and allege that she was not effectively represented by lawyers who first took on her case after the crime was committed. 

On Jan. 9, Montgomery's lawyers submitted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the justices stay her death sentence. The petition is an appeal of an earlier case out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the court ruled that the federal government acted against regulation when it scheduled Montgomery's execution for Jan. 12 despite an outstanding court order staying her execution. 

Death chamber, USP Terre Haute
That ruling fell apart after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed it, prompting Montgomery's lawyers to take it up with the Supreme Court. 

2 other executions set for later this week also were halted because the inmates tested positive for COVID-19. 

The executions were to be the last before President-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, is sworn-in next week. 

A federal judge for the U.S. District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling Tuesday. Johnson, convicted of killing 7 people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, and Higgs, convicted of ordering the murders of three women in Maryland, both tested positive for COVID-19 last month. 

Montgomery is just the 3rd woman executed by the federal government since 1900. She joins Bonnie Brown Heady who was put to death in a gas chamber in December 1953 for her role in the kidnapping and murder of a multi-millionaire auto dealer’s 6-year-old son; and Ethel Rosenberg who was executed in June 1953 for trying to deliver war secrets to the Soviet Union. 

Women have accounted for less than 4% of the nearly 16,000 executions carried out in the United States since the 1600s, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 

Montgomery becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year and the 14th federal inmate to be executed since the government resumed federal executions in 2001. 

Montgomery also becomes the 1,530th condemned inmate to be put to death in the USA since executions resumed on January 17, 1977. 

Sources: USA Today, staff; Rick Halperin, January 13, 2021

Lisa Montgomery’s Final Hours Before The Trump Administration Executed Her

Montgomery’s lawyers told HuffPost that she was out of touch with reality before she was killed by lethal injection early Wednesday morning.

Lisa Montgomery was put to death early Wednesday morning at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, shortly after the Supreme Court cleared the path for her execution.

Serious doubts about whether Montgomery, who was mentally ill, was competent for execution did not stop the government from killing her.

The 52-year-old, who was convicted of the 2004 murder of a pregnant woman, had been the only woman on death row. For years, she had been housed at a prison in Texas for women with special mental health needs and treated for bipolar disorder and complex PTSD stemming from her abusive childhood. 

In the days leading up to her death, her lawyers argued that she was incompetent for execution because she was in a state of psychosis and not meaningfully aware of what was about to happen to her. The Eighth Amendment prohibits executing a prisoner who cannot rationally understand why they are to be executed.

On these grounds, a federal court granted Montgomery a temporary stay less than 24 hours before her execution was scheduled to allow for her mental health to be evaluated, but that hearing never happened. The government appealed the stay and it was overturned by the U.S. Court Of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Montgomery was put to death one week before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes the federal death penalty and has said he will work to end its use. Two more executions are scheduled for later this week, although a temporary stay is in place for both. 

Less than an hour after Montgomery’s execution, at about 2:30 a.m. local time, HuffPost spoke with her lawyers over the phone. After a flurry of last minute legal filings attempting to save her life, they were finally resting in a hotel near the prison. There, they learned that a number of Bureau of Prisons staff who had assisted in Montgomery’s execution were also staying at the same hotel.

Amy Harwell is one of Montgomery’s attorneys, who contracted COVID-19 in November after visiting Montgomery in prison. She gave HuffPost a first-person account of her client’s last day alive and her death.

I understand you were with Montgomery today, the day of the execution. Can you describe what happened? 

I went to prison in the morning and spent four hours with her. During that time, her spiritual adviser John Francisco came. He gave us all communion, and talked with Lisa about if things went poorly tonight, how he hoped to care for her while in the execution chamber. He knew Lisa when she was a little girl. He was the bus driver who picked her up to take her to church, and his mom was her Sunday school teacher. 

At one point, he fished out of his wallet this tiny photograph. He flipped it over so Lisa could see and she gasped. On the back of it, it said “Lisa, 7, second grade.” Lisa had given him the photo when she was 7 years old. He had held on to it ever since. 

He told her that after the execution started, he intended to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace” while the chemicals flowed. That was the plan. But when we arrived at the execution house, [Bureau of Prisons staff] did not allow him to be with her. I explained that he was her designated spiritual adviser and needed to be in the chamber with her. A woman said she’d go check, and then she came running back and said it was too late. Lisa was on the gurney, all strapped in.

She wiggled her fingers a little, waving at us and we locked eyes with her and waited for the end to happen. She was deprived of her spiritual adviser. It was a needless indignity, and a deprivation of really her basic humanity. That in her final moments they tried to take her sense of herself as a loved child of God is an insult beyond comprehension. 

How was she doing today when you spent time with her? 

Lisa’s baseline state is pretty severely dissociated. From the moment we got there today, she was very detached from reality, much more so even than we had ever experienced before. One of the first things I said to her was, “Lisa you’re so far away from me. Can you get here with us?” And she was just so not with us. She was not following conversations. She was not processing the information I gave her. At one point I asked her to repeat back to me what I just said, and she was not able to do that. 

We had just gotten the stay [from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana] and I spent the day thinking, I’m going to get to present this proof in court! My client is completely disconnected from reality. Instead they killed her.

How does it feel knowing that, even though a federal judge believed there was evidence that Montgomery was too mentally ill to be executed, she was not allowed a competency hearing before her death? 

The order from [U.S. Judge James Patrick Hanlon] was a 28-page order that was very well reasoned. He thought that we made a very strong showing. So the idea that a judge says this rings the bell and somehow we don’t even get to go to court? I hate to use the word unconscionable again but I’m sorry, it’s late and I don’t have enough words. 

You witnessed her execution. Can you describe what she went through?

We have received quite a bit of training from medical personnel as to what to look for in circumstances of someone receiving lethal injections of huge amounts of chemicals. After her eyes closed, there was some movement in her mouth. There was a point where I was unclear exactly what I was seeing in her mouth, which was open, whether there was some bubbling or whether movement of her tongue. I tend to think it was a bubble. And then there was a rolling movement in her lower chest, which I have been trained by our consultants to know indicates an obstruction of the airways.

Where are you right now? 

We’re in a hotel room. We were told that 65 of the government’s employees who participated in tonight’s “event” — as they refer to it euphemistically — are also at this hotel, which adds a layer of surreal upon surreal. 

There was some discussion of printing out the op-ed by Sister Helen Prejean [the Catholic nun who called on the Department of Justice to stop the executions] and slipping it under some windshield wipers. So far we’ve managed to not.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Sourcehuffpost.com, Melissa Jeltsen, January 13, 2021

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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