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"We should recognize Lisa Montgomery's execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again," said Kelley Henry, one of Lisa Montgomery's attorneys.

"We should recognize Lisa Montgomery's execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again," said Kelley Henry, one of Lisa Montgomery's attorneys. (Photo: Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery via Associated Press)

Lawyer for Lisa Montgomery Condemns 'Craven Bloodlust' of Trump Administration as DOJ Executes Mentally Ill Woman

"Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway."

Jake Johnson

The Trump administration in the early hours of Wednesday morning executed 52-year-old Lisa Montgomery, a mentally ill victim of decades of sexual abuse and torture who strangled a pregnant woman to death in 2004.

Montgomery's execution with a lethal dose of pentobarbital came after the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court vacated a stay issued by a federal appeals court and rejected the Montgomery legal team's call for the planned killing to be stopped, a demand echoed by human rights organizations, mental health advocates, faith groups, and others.

"Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame."
—Kelley Henry, attorney for Lisa Montgomery

"The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight," Kelley Henry, one of Montgomery's attorneys, said in a statement early Wednesday. "Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame."

"Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution," Henry continued. "The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway. Violating the Constitution, federal law, its own regulations, and longstanding norms along the way."

One of several inmates the Trump administration has executed or is planning to execute during its final days in power, Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2007 for killing a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett and cutting the baby from her womb. The baby girl survived and was returned to her father, Zeb Stinnett.

As Rachel Louise Snyder wrote for the New York Times last month, Montgomery's "guilt was never in question. But she was sentenced to death because her trial lawyers, uninformed about gender violence, didn't seem to understand how to defend her."

Snyder explained in detail Montgomery's mental condition and the horrific sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather and others:

Ms. Montgomery has bipolar disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorder, psychosis, traumatic brain injury and most likely fetal alcohol syndrome. She was born into a family rife with mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Ms. Montgomery's mother, Judy Shaughnessy, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by her father.

Ms. Montgomery's own father left when she was a toddler. Her family moved every year, sometimes more than that—to Washington, Kansas, Colorado, back to Kansas. She was abused by her mother in extreme and sadistic ways, according to court documents and mitigation investigations with nearly 450 family members, neighbors, lawyers, social workers, and teachers, most done only at the behest of the post-conviction attorneys.

Lisa's stepfather, Jack Kleiner, began to sexually assault her when she was around 13. He built a shed-like room with its own entrance on the side of the family’s trailer outside Tulsa, Okla., and kept Ms. Montgomery there. Ms. Montgomery’s post-conviction team learned that Mr. Kleiner, who was a rampant alcoholic, would bring friends over to rape her, often for hours, often three at once. Ms. Shaughnessy also began to prostitute her daughter to offset bills for plumbing and electric work

But, Snyder went on to note, the jury in Montgomery's 2007 trial "heard very little of any of this" and never saw MRI scans of Montgomery's brain, "which showed tissue loss in her parietal lobe and limbic structures, and larger-than-normal ventricles, which indicate brain damage."

"The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide found that 16 other women across the United States have committed comparable crimes to Ms. Montgomery's since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, yet none of them have been executed," Snyder pointed out. "Even cases that captured the national spotlight—like the attacks by the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, for instance—have not resulted in the death penalty."

In her statement Wednesday, Henry said Montgomery "should never have faced a death sentence in the first place, as no other woman has faced execution for a similar crime."

"And Lisa was much more than the tragic crime she committed, a crime for which she felt deep remorse before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution," said Henry. "Lisa was also much more than the horrors inflicted upon her, the sexual violence and abuse she endured at the hands of those who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her."

"In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law," Henry continued. "This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa. We should recognize Lisa Montgomery's execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again."

Read Henry's full statement:

The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame. No one disagrees that Mrs. Montgomery was the victim of unspeakable torture and sex trafficking. No one can credibly dispute Mrs. Montgomery's longstanding debilitating mental disease—diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons' own doctors. Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway. Violating the Constitution, federal law, its own regulations, and longstanding norms along the way.

The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman. After we, her attorneys, contracted Covid-19 during our travels to visit her after her execution was scheduled, the government fought toot and nail against any delay to allow us to recover so we could represent her effectively. Then they violated the law in multiple ways in rescheduling her execution for the final days of the Trump administration. As courts agreed Lisa's case presented important legal issues warranting serious consideration—including whether she was competent to execute—the government hammered onward with appeals.

By insisting on an execution during a pandemic, this administration demonstrated its reckless disregard for human life of innocent citizens. Executions are super-spreader events. The government knows this. Yet, they put the lives of every single person who must participate in these "events" as well as every one of those persons' friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, and who knows how many other people. Because this administration was so afraid that the next one might choose Life over Death, they put the lives and health of U.S. citizens in grave danger.

In the midst of all this litigation, Lisa's request for clemency remained before President Trump. It was supported by thousands of organizations and individuals—faith leaders, anti-violence advocates, conservative leaders, international organizations, and many more. But the president did nothing. He had not even the decency to formally deny—or even acknowledge—Lisa's clemency application, though it is hard to imagine a case more deserving of executive intervention than this one.

Lisa Montgomery's execution was far from justice. She should never have faced a death sentence in the first place, as no other woman has faced execution for a similar crime. And Lisa was much more than the tragic crime she committed, a crime for which she felt deep remorse before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution. Lisa was also much more than the horrors inflicted upon her, the sexual violence and abuse she endured at the hands of those who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her.

Lisa was a loving mother, grandmother, and sister who adored her family. She was a devout Christian who loved Christmas and created beautiful angles for those lucky enough to receive her gifts. Lisa often became trapped in the prison of her mind, losing touch with reality for periods of time. But when not gripped by psychosis, she was a gentle and caring person whom I was honored to know and represent.

Lisa Nouri, Amy Harwell, and I represented Mrs. Montgomery for eight years. We loved her very much and she loved us. She honored us with her truth and trusted us to share it in a way that not only told her story, but that could help other women.

Even though President Trump could not be the hero we asked him to be, we are here to say to every woman and girl who has been the victim of violence and degradation: You matter. Your pain matters. You are more than a victim. You are a survivor. Do not let anyone humiliate or shame you. You deserve to be loved.

In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law. This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa.

We should recognize Lisa Montgomery's execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again.


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