Federal judge stays execution of lone woman on federal death row

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday agreed to briefly stay the execution of Lisa Montgomery, the lone woman on federal death row, after her attorneys fell ill with COVID-19 and were unable to file a timely clemency petition on her behalf.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss said that though his order will temporarily stay the execution, now slated for Dec. 8, it will “not enjoin any government official, including the President,” from taking any adverse action on her request for a reprieve.

He added that if her lawyers are not able to file her clemency request by Dec. 24, then they must have other counsel appointed on her behalf.

His ruling came after a hearing earlier this week, where Moss had at times appeared skeptical on whether to grant Montgomery more time to petition for clemency.

Montgomery, now 52, was convicted in 2007 of kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant. Montgomery then cut the baby, who survived the attack, out from the womb.

Both her lead clemency attorneys, Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell, have been too sick with COVID-19 to prepare and file her petition.

Her lawyers had said that Montgomery has long suffered from severe mental illness and was the victim of sexual assault, including gang rape.

“The district court’s ruling gives Lisa Montgomery a meaningful opportunity to prepare and present a clemency application after her attorneys recover from COVID,” said Sandra Babcock, one of her attorneys, in a statement in response to Thursday’s ruling.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Aurora Ellis)