The U.S. government has executed seven people this year and plans to put three more people to death before the end of 2020, including Lisa Montgomery, the only woman under a federal death sentence.
From a young age, Lisa Montgomery was sexually trafficked by her mentally ill, alcoholic mother, forced to perform sexual acts to “earn her keep,” and repeatedly gang raped by adult men, her attorney Kelley Henry said in a statement. She was acutely mentally ill when she killed a pregnant woman and kidnapped her child, Ms. Henry said, but her trial lawyer presented a witness who wasn’t even a licensed mental health professional instead of providing the jury with competent evidence about Ms. Montgomery’s traumatic history and severe mental illness.
“Lisa Montgomery has long accepted full responsibility for her crime, and she will never leave prison,” Ms. Henry wrote. “But her severe mental illness and the devastating impacts of her childhood trauma make executing her a profound injustice.”
It has been almost 70 years since the federal government executed a woman. The death penalty is increasingly rare, and the likelihood of a death sentence or execution depends more on arbitrary factors like the race of the victim, inadequate lawyering, and geographical location than the severity of the offense.
The death penalty is especially unusual when applied to women. Women are rarely sentenced to death in the U.S. and executions of women are even rarer. The last time the federal government executed a woman was in 1953, and only 1% of the people who have been executed in the U.S. were women.
Like Ms. Montgomery, many of the women sentenced to death in this country are survivors of horrific sexual violence and abuse and suffer from trauma and serious mental illness as a result of their victimization.
Ms. Montgomery is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on December 8 at the federal correctional complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, where executions have been linked to a coronavirus outbreak.
Covid-19 cases spiked and three people who were incarcerated there have died from Covid-19 since July 14, when Daniel Lee became the first person executed by the federal government in 17 years.
“Those deaths were part of a larger outbreak in the wake of the federal government’s decision to carry out an unprecedented number of executions there these past few months during a deadly pandemic,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, said in a statement. “The government’s rush to kill has caused senseless risk for incarcerated people, prison staff, and everyone who lives in Terre Haute, Indiana.”
Despite the risk of creating a super-spreader event as Covid-19 cases surge across the country, the federal government plans to execute Orlando Hall next week, Lisa Montgomery on December 8, and Brandon Bernard two days later, on December 10.