U.S. judge reluctant to give woman on death row more time to seek clemency

FILE PHOTO: Lisa Montgomery, a federal prison inmate scheduled for execution on December 8, 2020, poses at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) Fort Worth in an undated photograph. Courtesy of Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery/Handout via REUTERS./File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge signaled reluctance on Monday to grant Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, extra time to petition for clemency after her attorneys fell ill with COVID-19 before they could complete her application.

In a hearing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Randolph Moss questioned why lawyers for the convicted killer had not completed a draft of the clemency petition sooner, saying he believed Montgomery could still authorize other attorneys to proceed on her behalf.

The Justice Department said in October it would execute Montgomery on Dec. 8, in what would be the first federal execution of a woman since 1953.

Montgomery, now 52, was convicted in 2007 of kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant. Montgomery then cut the baby, who survived the attack, out from the womb.

“I would think that any vigorous and experienced counsel ... would begin on Day 1 and would have done a great deal for early November to have at least started the process of putting something together,” Moss said.

“What I can tell you is that the amount of time was very short, given all that they had to do,” responded Sandra Babcock, an attorney for Montgomery, telling Moss later in the hearing that clemency arguments “can’t be put together by any old person.”

Babcock said lead clemency attorneys Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell were too sick to meet the Monday night deadline to file Montgomery’s petition.

Montgomery’s lawyers say she has long suffered severe mental illness and was the victim of sexual assault, including gang rape.

Separately, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in federal court on Monday seeking a stay of the execution on the grounds that Montgomery is being held in “torturous conditions” likely to re-traumatize a woman who was “sexually terrorized for decades.”