The US government has carried out the execution Lisa Montgomery, the first female inmate in nearly 70 years to be put to death in the country.
Montgomery, 52, was executed early Wednesday morning (local time) for strangling an expectant mother in Missouri and cutting the baby from her womb in 2004.
As a curtain was raised in the execution chamber, Montgomery looked momentarily bewildered as she glanced at journalists peering at her from behind thick glass.
As the execution process began, a woman standing over Montgomery’s shoulder leaned over, gently removed Montgomery’s face mask and asked her if she had any last words.
“No,” Montgomery responded in a quiet, muffled voice. She said nothing else.
She was pronounced dead at 1.31am after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
She was the 11th prisoner to receive a lethal injection there since July when President Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, resumed federal executions following 17 years without one.
“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight,” Montgomery’s attorney, Kelley Henry said in a statement.
Henry said everyone who participated in the execution “should feel shame”.
“The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman,” Henry said.
“Lisa Montgomery’s execution was far from justice.”
Challenges were fought across multiple federal courts on whether to allow execution of Montgomery, who had initially been scheduled to be killed by lethal injections of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate on Tuesday in the Justice Department's execution chamber at the prison.
As the only woman on federal death row, Montgomery had been held in a federal prison in Texas and was brought to Terre Haute on Monday night.
Montgomery was the first of the final three federal inmates scheduled to die before next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to discontinue federal executions.
‘Womb raider’ tried to pass baby off as her own
Montgomery killed 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in 2004.
She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife.
Montgomery took the child after performing the crude cesarean and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, the press dubbed her the ‘womb raider’.
Prosecutors told the jury Montgomery drove about 274km from her Melvern, Kansas, farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a rat terrier puppy from Stinnett.
Prosecutors said Stinnett regained consciousness and tried to defend herself as Montgomery cut the baby girl from her womb.
Later that day, Montgomery called her husband to pick her up in the parking lot of a Long John Silver’s in Topeka, Kansas, telling him she had delivered the baby earlier in the day at a nearby birthing centre.
Montgomery was arrested the next day after showing off the premature infant, Victoria Jo, who is now 16 years old and hasn’t spoken publicly about the tragedy.
Prosecutors said the motive was that Montgomery’s ex-husband knew she had undergone a tubal ligation that made her sterile and planned to reveal she was lying about being pregnant in an effort to get custody of two of their four children.
Needing a baby before a fast-approaching court date, Montgomery turned her focus on Stinnett, whom she had met at dog shows.
Delusions of God speaking through puzzles and mental illness
Montgomery’s legal team says she suffered “sexual torture,” including gang rapes, as a child, permanently scarring her emotionally and exacerbating mental-health issues that ran in her family.
At trial, prosecutors accused Montgomery of faking mental illness, noting that her killing of Stinnett was premeditated and included meticulous planning, including online research on how to perform a C-section.
Henry balked at that idea, citing extensive testing and brain scans that supported the diagnosis of mental illness.
Henry said the issue at the core of the legal arguments are not whether she knew the killing was wrong in 2004 but whether she fully grasps why she is slated to be executed now.
In his ruling on a stay, US District Judge James Patrick Hanlon in Terre Haute cited defence experts who alleged Montgomery suffered from depression, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Montgomery, the judge wrote, also suffered around the time of the killing from an extremely rare condition called pseudocyesis in which a woman’s false belief she is pregnant triggers hormonal and physical changes as if she were actually pregnant.
Montgomery also experiences delusions and hallucinations, believing God spoke with her through connect-the-dot puzzles, the judge said, citing defence experts.
The government has acknowledged Montgomery’s mental issues but disputes that she can’t comprehend that she is scheduled for execution for killing another person because of them.
First woman executed by the federal government since 1953
Montgomery has done needle-point in prison, making gloves, hats and other knitted items as gifts for her lawyers and others, Henry said. She hasn’t been able to continue that hobby or read since her glasses were taken away from her out of concern she could take her own life
“All of her coping mechanisms were taken away from her when they locked her down” in October when she was informed she had an execution date, Henry said.
Anti-death penalty groups said Trump was pushing for executions prior to the November election in a cynical bid to burnish a reputation as a law-and-order leader.
The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Brown Heady on Dec. 18, 1953, for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Missouri.
The last woman executed by a state was Kelly Gissendaner, 47, on September 30, 2015, in Georgia. She was convicted of murder in the 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.
With AP and Reuters
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