A group of three judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a lower court judge was wrong when he vacated an execution date for Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, reinstating her execution date later this month.
She’s now scheduled to be executed just before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty.
Montgomery’s execution had been scheduled for December 8, but a judge postponed it after her attorneys said they were diagnosed with Covid-19 after flying from Texas to visit with Montgomery at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
On November 23, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Michael Carvajal, rescheduled Montgomery’s execution for January 12. Friday’s order said he was acting under the “governing regulation,” which allowed him to reschedule the execution because the original execution date had not passed. The order said he was acting under the law, clearing the way for Montgomery’s execution later this month.
Montgomery’s attorney, Meaghan VerGow, said in a statement that she disagrees with the judges and is going to file a petition for them to reconsider their decision. The judges gave VerGow until Saturday to file.
“The federal government must be required to follow the law in setting any execution date, as the district court correctly held … Given everything we know about Lisa Montgomery’s mental illness, her lifetime of horrific torture and trauma, and the many people in positions of authority who could have intervened to save her but never did, there can be no principled reason to carry out her execution,” VerGow said. “The government should stop its relentless efforts to end her life.”
VerGow has asked for President Donald Trump to commute Montgomery’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
The Trump administration has overseen 10 federal executions in the final months of his presidency, the most in a single year in the United States in decades, and a revival after years of having none. Montgomery would be the first woman executed by the US government since 1953.
In 2004, Montgomery was convicted of strangling a Missouri woman who was eight months pregnant, then cutting out and kidnapping the baby. The baby survived.
The last woman executed by the US government was Bonnie Brown Heady in 1953, according to US Bureau of Prisons records, for kidnapping and murder. The US also famously executed Ethel Rosenberg that same year for espionage.
This story has been updated with additional information.