In the early hours of Wednesday, Lisa Montgomery became the first woman to be executed by the federal government in 70 years and the 11th person to be executed by the Trump administration. Last July, President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr reinstated federal executions after a 17-year hiatus, and the administration has executed three people in December and January, breaking with a long precedent of halting federal executions during a lame duck session. The fourth and fifth executions, Corey Johnson and Dustin J. Higgs, are slated for execution on Thursday and Friday.
In 2004, Montgomery murdered a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett and made off with her unborn child, whom she claimed as her own. That child miraculously survived the ordeal and will turn 16 this year on the anniversary of the death of the mother she never knew. For her part, Montgomery grew up surrounded by physical and sexual abuse. Her mother forced her to commit sexual acts with local repairmen as a way to “pay the bills” and her stepfather repeatedly abused her. Activists and Montgomery’s lawyers pointed towards her trauma and history of mental illness as proof that she was incompetent for execution. Numerous stays were granted by courts over the last few weeks as debates raged about legal ramifications of executing people with mental illness. However, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution late Tuesday, as they have done for the Trump administration’s last ten executions.
The debate about mental health and federal executions will continue through Wednesday and Thursday as the federal government prepares to execute Corey Johnson, convicted of killing seven people for a Virginia drug gang. Although Johnson’s IQ test score at the time of his trial put him at 77, just outside of the range for intellectual disability, subsequent analysis has found that his test scores were likely artificially inflated. That means Johnson probably is intellectually disabled, and technically protected from execution under U.S. law. However, no court has agreed to hear the new evidence in the nearly three decades.
“We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power,” Kelley Henry told the New York Times. Henry was Montgomery’s defense attorney. “We cannot let this happen again.”