The Grotesque Execution of Lisa Montgomery Blurs the Line Between What Is Legal and What Is Just

The Grotesque Execution of Lisa Montgomery Blurs the Line Between What Is Legal and What Is Just
Image:Nicholas Kamm (Getty Images)

While most Americans were making an attempt at sleep in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the federal government executed Lisa Montgomery—the only woman on death row and the first to be executed since 1953—by lethal injection, CNN reports. Montgomery’s lawyers and family members have been petitioning the Trump administration for clemency for years, on the grounds that Montgomery was not competent to stand trial in 2004, when she was convicted of murdering a pregnant woman and “abducting the unborn child,” who Montgomery allegedly believed was her own. Lisa Montgomery was the 11th person executed under the Trump administration.

Montgomery was originally scheduled to be executed in December, but the date was shifted repeatedly after her lawyers were infected with coronavirus and a judge delayed the execution date, providing a glimmer of hope that the execution would fall under the Biden administration. While Joe Biden was campaigning for president, his website laid out his criminal justice policy, which included a promise to “eliminate” the death penalty. On Monday, NPR reported that Democrats were putting forward legislation to abolish capital punishment “at the federal level and require the re-sentencing of all federal inmates on death row.” A stay of execution for Montgomery seemed possible, but on January 12, Montgomery’s sentence was carried out.

After a decade long hiatus of death sentences being carried out in the United States, the last few months of Trump’s presidency has seen 11 federal executions, a spree that blurs the line between what is legal and what is just. Lisa Montgomery’s death, though sanctioned by the federal government, cannot be considered justice. Montgomery killed a woman in 2004 and ripped a child from her womb, a child that is now 16 years old, of that there was no doubt. But the circumstances leading up to that moment, including Montgomery’s mental state, were never properly taken into consideration during her original sentencing hearing.

The New York Times wrote in December that Montgomery “[had] bipolar disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorder, psychosis, traumatic brain injury, and most likely fetal alcohol syndrome.” Montgomery was reportedly raped by her stepfather and his friends repeatedly, on some days for hours at a time, beginning when she was 13, and was eventually forced into sex work by her own mother. This information, along with the scans showing Montgomery’s extensive brain damage, wasn’t made available to the jury who suggested the penalty of death.

But all of this information was available years after Montgomery had been put on death row when there was still time to amend her sentence to incorporate the years of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse that destroyed the parts of her brain “responsible for regulating social and emotional behavior and memory,” the Times explains. One of Montgomery’s lawyers who had been working to get Montgomery off death row released a statement calling her execution a violation of the constitution writing, “Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway.”

Lisa Montgomery reportedly had no last words before she was pronounced dead at 1:31 on Wednesday morning. Her state-sanctioned death, which could have been prevented by Donald Trump, likely didn’t even register on his personal radar.

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