A federal judge in Indiana late Monday halted Tuesday night's execution of Lisa Montgomery, convicted in 2007 for the 2004 murder of a pregnant Missouri woman, ruling that Montgomery needs to undergo an evaluation of her mental competence to face execution. The federal government had halted capital punishment in 2003, but President Trump and then–Attorney General William Barr started executing prisoners again in July. Montgomery was scheduled to be the 11th person executed under Trump and the first woman put to death in federal custody since 1953, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.
Last-minute stays in death penalty cases are typically a stalling tactic, U.S. District Judge Patrick Hanlon wrote, but he saw enough merit in Montgomery's stay petition to halt the execution for now. "Ms. Montgomery has been diagnosed with physical brain impairments and multiple mental illnesses, and three experts are of the opinion that, based on conduct and symptoms reported to them by counsel, Ms. Montgomery's perception of reality is currently distorted and impaired," Hanlon said.
Montgomery was convicted of driving from her home in Kansas to the Missouri home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then strangling Stinnett, cutting open her abdomen, removing her unborn daughter in a crude C-section, then trying to pass the child off as her own. Hanlon did not set a date for Montgomery's competency hearing, saying only it will occur "in due course." President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes the death penalty, takes office in one week.
The federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, is also scheduled to execute two more inmates on Thursday, Dustin Higgs and Corey Johnson. Trump has already put to death more prisoners than any president since 1896, and his execution spree comes as capital punishment has fallen out of favor in much of the U.S. There were seven state executions in 2020, a 37-year-low.