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U.S. executes 1st woman on federal death row in nearly 7 decades

The U.S. government executed convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, early on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court cleared the last hurdle for her execution by overturning a stay, according to a reporter serving as a media witness.

WARNING: Story contains details readers may find disturbing

Lisa Montgomery was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight months pregnant. (Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery/Handout/Reuters)

The U.S. government executed convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, early on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court cleared the last hurdle for her execution by overturning a stay.

Montgomery's execution marked the first time a female federal prisoner has been executed in the United States since 1953.

She was pronounced deceased at 1:31 a.m. ET on Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.

Challenges were fought across multiple federal courts on whether to allow execution of Montgomery, 52, who had initially been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, on Tuesday in the Justice Department's execution chamber at its prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Kelley Henry, Montgomery's lawyer, called the execution "vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power."

"No one can credibly dispute Mrs. Montgomery's longstanding debilitating mental disease — diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons' own doctors," Henry said in a statement.

Convicted for 2007 murder

Montgomery was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight months pregnant. Montgomery cut Stinnett's fetus from the womb. The child survived.

Some of Stinnett's relatives travelled to witness Montgomery's execution, the Justice Department said.

As the execution process began, asked by a female executioner if she had any last words, Montgomery responded in a quiet, muffled voice, "No," according to a reporter who served as a media witness.

Karen Burkhart holds a sign across the road from the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind., Tuesday to protest the scheduled execution of Montgomery. Montgomery was executed early Wednesday. (Joseph C. Garza/The Tribune-Star/The Associated Press)

Federal executions had been on pause for 17 years and only three men had been executed by the federal government since 1963 until the practice resumed last year under President Donald Trump, whose outspoken support for capital punishment long predates his entry into politics.

Montgomery's lawyers asked for Trump's clemency last week, saying she committed her crime after a childhood in which she was abused and repeatedly raped by her stepfather and his friends, and so should instead face life in prison.

Suffered brain damage, mental illness, says ACLU

It is one of three executions the U.S. Department of Justice had scheduled for the final full week of Trump's administration. Two other executions scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been delayed, for now at least, by a federal judge in Washington, to allow the condemned murderers to recover from COVID-19.

The American Civil Liberties Union and some liberal lawmakers had previously opposed the government's plans to execute Montgomery, with the ACLU saying her life had been "marred by unthinkable trauma that resulted in documented brain damage and mental illness."

Montgomery's execution was the first of 2021 by the federal government and the 11th since last year.

Since 1976, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision ended a moratorium on the death penalty, 16 women on state death rows across the country have been executed.  

In 2020, the U.S. government executed 10 people and it was for the first time ever that the federal government conducted more executions than all U.S. states combined, according to a database compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

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