On Jan. 13, Lisa Montgomery became the first federal female death row execution in 70 years. With a change in administration, could she be the last for the next 70?
Montgomery was pronounced dead at precisely 1:13 a.m. from lethal injection. The execution was carried out at the Federal Prison Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted her stay of execution order.
Montgomery was the first female federal inmate executed in almost seven decades since Bonnie Heady, who had been executed in a gas chamber in Missouri in 1953.
Both Heady and Montgomery’s crimes involved kidnapped children and murder in Missouri. In 2004, Montgomery drove to Bobbi Jo Stinnett's home to purchase a puppy. Once inside the residence, Montgomery attacked Stinnett and strangled her, reported USA Today. She proceeded to cut the eight-month pregnant Stinnett open and removed her baby, with the intent to pass the child as her own.
Kelly Henry, an attorney for Montgomery, maintained her client suffered from severe mental illness due to a lifetime of sexual assault she suffered at the hand of caretakers.
Henry stated the same rationale for the basis of her stay of execution motion, which the court had also denied.
Prosecutors rebuffed the argument, pointing to the meticulous planning of Montgomery to kill Stinnett, including her online search to learn how to perform a cesarean section.
Montgomery’s case garnered much publicity stemming from the decades-long tradition of not performing federal executions. Only a handful had happened during the last several presidential administrations.
The issue of whether to abolish or reinstate death penalty laws had always been controversial in the United States, with history on both sides of the political pendulum. According to BBC, the death penalty was outlawed at the state and federal level in 1972 by the Supreme Court.
However, in 1976, the supreme court reversed its own decision to reinstate the death penalty only at the state level, followed at the federal level in 1988.
According to the Death penalty information Center, there are currently 48 federal inmates on death row. After Montgomery’s death, they are all men.
Montgomery was the 11th federal prisoner executed since the Donald Trump administration resumed executions for capital punishment.
Now, with the Biden administration at the helm, the jury is still out on whether the president, a Democrat who had been an ardent supporter of the death penalty, will fulfill the promise of his reversal when he suggested putting a moratorium as president-elect, according to NBC News.
Already, the Biden administration is feeling the pressure with the decision of the supreme court to hear the appeal made by his predecessor to consider reinstating the death penalty for the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The stakes could be exceptionally high for the Biden White House in a 6 to 3 conservative supreme court majority.
But, without a female on federal death row and the unknown policies of the current administration, it could be decades until another woman is executed.