Attorneys for the first woman set to be executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years have contracted COVID-19 – and now want her sentence delayed as they continue to seek clemency in the case.
Lisa Montgomery, who was convicted in 2007 of strangling a pregnant woman, stealing her unborn baby from her womb and passing the child off as her own, is set to die by lethal injection on Dec. 8.
Montgomery’s attorneys, Amy Harwell and Kelley Henry, filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a federal judge to give them more time to prep their client’s clemency request after coming down with the virus during trips to Texas late last month, the Washington Post reported.
Harwell and Henry blame Attorney General William Barr for setting Montgomery’s execution date in October as cases of coronavirus continue to skyrocket in the US and other parts of the world.
Montgomery is expected to be transferred to the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, for execution.
“They are sick because Defendant Barr recklessly scheduled Mrs. Montgomery’s execution in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic,” reads the complaint filed by Cornell Law School’s International Human Rights Policy Advocacy Clinic in US District Court in Washington. “But for Barr’s action, counsel would not have been stricken with the disease that is currently ravaging the country.”
The attorneys took flights from Nashville to Texas to work on Montgomery’s request to commute her sentence to life in prison and tested positive shortly thereafter, according to the filing.
They’re now enduring “debilitating fatigue” that precludes them from working on Montgomery’s fight for clemency. The federal prison in Fort Worth where the convicted killer is being held has had more than 520 inmates test positive for the virus since April, including six deaths, the Washington Post reported.
Bobbie Jo Stinnett is shown in an undated photo provided by Nodaway-Holt High School. Stinnett, 23, an eight-months-pregnant factory worker, was found slain in her Missouri home.AP/ AP
The attorneys from Cornell want a judge to issue an injunction that would give more time for work on a clemency request for Montgomery while citing her “profound mental illness,” according to the report.
“Mrs. Montgomery’s lawyers are in bed as I speak, they are really not functional,” Cornell law professor Sandra Babcock told US District Judge Randolph Moss on Friday.
Monday’s deadline for the government to file a clemency petition, as well as a possible extension to Dec. 1, is “not feasible given their illness,” Babcock said.
Moss set a hearing for Monday afternoon in response to the filing, the Washington Post reported.
Montgomery’s attorneys and supporters have said she suffers from hallucinations after being raped multiple times by her stepfather and routinely beaten by her mother.
“Not surprisingly, this lifetime of torture exacerbated Lisa’s genetic predisposition to mental illness, and caused her to develop a dissociative disorder in addition to complex post-traumatic stress disorder,” reads a petition signed by nearly 4,000 calling on President Trump to stop her execution.
That trauma “led directly” to the gruesome 2004 crime, advocates say, during which federal authorities said she strangled Bobbie Jo Stinnett until she lost consciousness and stole her baby after slicing her body open with a kitchen knife. Stinnett’s baby survived the attack.