The US is set to execute a female federal inmate for the first time in 67 years, Donald Trump’s justice department has said.
Lisa Montgomery, who strangled a Missouri woman in 2004 and stole her unborn baby, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at the US penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on 8 December.
Montgomery, whose lawyers have long argued she has brain damage from beatings as a child and suffers from psychosis and other mental conditions, will become the first woman executed by the US government since Bonny Brown Heady in December 1953. Heady was convicted of kidnapping and killing the six-year-old heir of an automobile tycoon. With her boyfriend, she was executed in a gas chamber.
The attorney general, William Barr, announced the decision to proceed with the execution of Montgomery, 52, in a statement that also detailed a 10 December execution date for Brandon Bernard, 40, who with two accomplices was found guilty of the murder of two church ministers in Texas in 1999.
Barr said the crimes were “especially heinous murders”. Montgomery, who sliced open the belly of Bobby Jo Stinnett and took her daughter, is the only woman among 55 federal inmates awaiting execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Under Barr, seven executions of federal prisoners have taken place since July. Before that, only three inmates had been executed since the restoration of the federal death penalty in 1998, the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and another in 2001, the other two years later.
In state prisons, 16 women have been executed since a 1976 supreme court decision lifted a moratorium on the death penalty across the US. The most recent was in September 2015, when Kelly Renee Gissendaner received a lethal injection in Georgia for the 1997 murder of her husband.
Montgomery’s attorney, Kelley Henry, attacked Barr’s decision as an “injustice”.
“In the grip of her mental illness, Lisa committed a terrible crime,” Henry, an assistant public defender in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a statement. “Yet she immediately expressed profound remorse and was willing to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence with no possibility of release.
“Lisa Montgomery has long accepted full responsibility for her crime, and she will never leave prison. But her severe mental illness and the devastating impacts of her childhood trauma make executing her a profound injustice.”
Now 16, Stinnett’s daughter, Victoria Jo, was raised by her father. In 2004, Montgomery’s husband said he was unaware the baby his wife brought home was not theirs.
“I had no idea,” Kevin Montgomery said. “I sure hope [the Stinnett family] get as much support from their church and community as I have because we are all going to need it.”