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Glenda Breeden, Reverend Bill Breeden, and Karen Burkhart stand outside the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex to protest before death row inmate Wesley Ira Purkey was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in July 2020.

Glenda Breeden, Reverend Bill Breeden, and Karen Burkhart stand outside the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex to protest before death row inmate Wesley Ira Purkey was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in July 2020. (Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Demanding Clemency for Lisa Montgomery, UN Experts Warn US on Verge of 'Arbitrary Execution'

"Ms. Montgomery was the victim of an extreme level of physical and sexual abuse throughout her life against which the state never provided protection and for which it failed to offer remedies."

Andrea Germanos

As the Trump administration moves forward with a federal killing spree in the lame duck period, a group of United Nations rights experts on Thursday urged the U.S. government to halt the planned execution of Lisa Montgomery—a convicted murderer who suffered horrific abuse throughout her life.

Montgomery is scheduled to die January 12 by lethal injection—just over a week before President Donald Trump leaves office—and would be the first woman to die by federal execution in nearly 70 years. She's been described as "profoundly mentally ill" and "the most broken of the broken."

In their joint statement, the special rapporteurs and other human rights experts say Montgomery was repeatedly "betrayed" by state authorities, pointing in part to her legal defense that failed to adequately address her mental health.

"Ms. Montgomery was the victim of an extreme level of physical and sexual abuse throughout her life against which the state never provided protection and for which it failed to offer remedies. She suffered from several mental health conditions which the state failed to care for," the experts wrote.

"When it came to the capital proceedings," the statement continues, "the state betrayed her yet again, neglecting to consider these essential and determining facts as mitigating circumstances."

"International standards are clear—the death penalty is always arbitrary and unlawful when the court ignores or discounts essential facts that may have significantly influenced a capital defendant's motivations, situation, and conduct," the experts continued, referencing "exposure to domestic violence and other abuse."

"A death sentence carried out in contravention of a government's international obligations amounts to an arbitrary execution," the group added.

The statement also criticized more broadly the Trump administration's decision to resume federal executions, as it "goes against international trends towards the reduction and eventual abolition of the death penalty."

Signatories to the letter are Agnès Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Dubravka Šimonovic, special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes, and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick, Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, Meskerem Geset Techane, Ivana RadačIć, and Melissa Upreti of the U.N. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Gerard Quinn, special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and Olivier De Schutter, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Their plea came a day before author and anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean voiced fresh criticism at "a federal death-penalty system that is beyond repair."

In an op-ed published Thursday at the Washington Post, Prejean addressed the crime for which Montgomery was convicted in 2007—"She killed a mother and kidnapped her baby, after cutting the 8-month fetus out of her victim's body." Yet, Prejean continued,

Montgomery is also a human being who suffered appalling abuse starting at birth and continuing throughout her life—abuse so severe it caused a psychotic break. When she cried out for help, help was denied her, and, lost in her own special hell, she committed her horrific crimes. Montgomery desperately needed intensive antipsychotic medication and intensive therapy; today, instead, she faces a fatal needle on Jan. 12, a mere eight days before [Joe] Biden becomes president.

A group of 90 current and former law enforcement officials have also joined the chorus of those urging Trump to cancel the planned federal executions of Montgomery and four others between now and Inauguration Day.

"Case after case has revealed that our nation's long experiment with the death penalty has failed," they wrote in a statement (pdf) released Thursday. "The process is broken, implicates systemic racism and constitutional concerns, and distinguishes our country from many other democratic nations in the world."

"At a time when the country is struggling through a deadly pandemic," they wrote, "spending scarce resources to carry out federal executions and forcing defense lawyers to risk their lives to defend clients on death row is simply unthinkable."

Biden, for his part, has pledged to end federal use of the death penalty. 


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