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Female death row inmate petitioning Trump has endured 'lifetime of horrific torture,' say experts

Dozens of prosecutors have urged President Trump to commute her sentence, set to be carried out in less than a week.

Updated: January 5, 2021 - 11:53pm

Lisa Montgomery, scheduled in less than a week's time to be the first woman executed by the federal government in 70 years, has suffered a "lifetime of horrific torture," abuse, rape, sexual trafficking and other horrors, according to advocates who are urging President Trump to commute her sentence ahead of her Jan. 12 lethal injection. 

Montgomery, awaiting execution at the federal death chamber at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., was tried and convicted for the 2004 murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett in Skidmore, Missouri. Montgomery strangled Stinnett then performed a Caesarean section on her, taking Stinnett's unborn child as her own back to her Kansas home. 

Stinnett's daughter was ultimately returned to her widower. Montgomery, meanwhile, was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to death under federal law pursuant to the Federal Kidnapping Act. If the sentence is carried out, she will become the first woman executed by Washington since 1953.

Apart from the relative infrequency of a female federal death row prisoner, Montgomery's case has lately been in the news due to the legal fracas that has played out in courts over the last few months, as judges have alternately stayed her execution and reinstated it. If the federal government proceeds with the execution next week, Montgomery will be among the last individuals executed under the Trump administration ahead of its presumed end on Jan. 20. 

'Extreme level of physical and sexual abuse'

Yet an international coalition of advocates, prosecutors, physicians and mental health experts are calling for a commutation of Montgomery's death sentence, citing what they say are years and years of brutal torture and abuse suffered by Montgomery that may explain why she undertook the brutal crime. 

Attorneys for Montgomery declined to make her available for an interview, telling Just the News that her mental state precludes any capability on her part to speak to media. Yet her lawyers provided what they said was a rundown of the "relentless trauma and terror" suffered by Montgomery throughout her life. 

According to her law firm, Montgomery as a young child endured years of successive rapes by a series of men, including her stepfather. Her mother reportedly began prostituting her to men at 15 years old.

She suffered brain damage due to her mother's consuming alcohol while pregnant with her. She now suffers from "multiple mental disorders, including bipolar disorder and temporal lobe epilepsy," her law firm said.

An evaluation by a leading neuropsychologist at the University of Pennsylvania found that "Ms. Montgomery's actions have been influenced by a compromised neural substrate. Her brain is neither structurally nor functionally sound, and the damage is in areas that are needed for integrated behavior under full conscious control."

One 2016 psychiatric evaluation by an NYU psychologist indicated Montgomery was suffering from "complex post-traumatic stress" as well as "severe dissociative symptoms."

Montgomery's life "demonstrates the tragic and devastating consequences of abuse and exploitation of children by those who should protect and nurture them," the evaluation found.

A 2013 evaluation, meanwhile, found that Montgomery "has a long standing history of serious brain impairments, exposure to extreme trauma, affective mood disorder, and psychosis."

"These symptoms affect her behavior at all times, disrupting her ability to function normally," the physician said. 

The details of Montgomery's life have prompted an international outcry against her impending execution from a wide variety of advocates and activists.

In December, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the Organization of American States, called for a delay of her execution pending the commission's review of the case.

The commission noted that brain scans conducted on Montgomery "revealed an absence of brain matter, which means that her brain had either deteriorated after an injury or never formed properly. She reportedly also suffered from epilepsy, frontal lobe syndrome, parietal lobe and temporal lobe dysfunction."

A United Nations panel of experts, meanwhile, last month called for the commutation of Montgomery's sentence, claiming she "was the victim of an extreme level of physical and sexual abuse throughout her life against which the State never provided protection and for which it failed to offer remedies."

"She suffered from several mental health conditions which the State failed to care for," the group argued. "When it came to the capital proceedings, the State betrayed her yet again, neglecting to consider these essential and determining facts as mitigating circumstances."

In November of last year, several dozen current and former U.S. prosecutors implored President Trump to "grant [Montgomery] mercy and spare her life," pointing to her "experiences as a victim of horrific sexual violence, physical abuse, and being trafficked."

Those tragedies "do not excuse her crime," the prosecutors argued. "But her history provides us with an important explanation that would influence any sentencing recommendation we made as prosecutors."

Two former prosecutors in November, meanwhile, urged President Trump to commute Montgomery's sentence to life imprisonment, citing their own experiences prosecuting cases in which pregnant women were attacked and/or killed.

"[W]e never believed the death penalty was an appropriate sentence" in those cases, the prosecutors argued. "It was apparent from the outset that these women were not the 'worst of the worst' for whom capital punishment was warranted."

Montgomery's path toward execution has in recent weeks been marked by rapidly shifting circumstances impelled by back-and-forth court decisions. 

In October, the federal government set Montgomery's execution date for Dec. 8. In late November, however, a judge halted that execution, citing the fact that Montgomery's lawyers had contracted COVID-19 and could not properly counsel her. 

The government subsequently rescheduled her execution for Jan. 12. But a judge in late December ruled that the government was prohibited from rescheduling the execution until after Jan. 1. 

Since federal prisoners are customarily given at least 20 days' notice prior to being executed, the decision potentially punted Montgomery's execution until after the expected inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20. Biden has in the past signaled his opposition to the federal death penalty. 

Yet last week a U.S. appeals court ruled that the lower judge's decision was in error, clearing the way for Montgomery's Jan. 12 execution.

Montgomery has filed a petition for clemency with President Trump. Her lawyers publicly released that petition this week

"With understanding comes hope," the petition implores Trump. "You can do Justice and exercise Mercy at the same time. Justice in this case is life imprisonment, without parole."

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