- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2020

A federal judge on Friday gave the Justice Department just one day to explain why the scheduled execution of the only woman on federal death row should not be postponed because her lawyers have contracted serious cases of COVID-19.

Government lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss for more time to make their case, saying they needed until Wednesday to file their arguments.

Judge Moss, however, was unmoved, saying the dispute has to move quickly so lawyers for Lisa Montgomery could still have time to appeal her execution.

He ordered the Justice Department to file their argument by midnight Saturday. Judge Moss also scheduled a hearing in the case for Monday.

“My concern is that there is ample time for both sides to obtain the appellate review,” he said. “I don’t want to cut into the time for an appellate court or the Supreme Court to consider the case.”

Lawyers for Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the execution because they contracted COVID-19 while visiting her in prison. Montgomery’s execution is scheduled for Dec. 8.

Assisted federal public defenders Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell said in a statement they have “debilitating symptoms” and won’t be able to meet the Nov. 15 deadline for a clemency petition.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday against the Justice Department and Attorney General William P. Barr, seeks a temporary restraining order to stop the execution.

Sandra Babcock, a law professor at Cornell University, argued on behalf of Montgomery’s lawyers, saying the lawyers are “not functional” and bedridden.

Ms. Babcock said the Justice Department has demanded the lawyers file their own clemency petition. She said filing a “placeholder petition” was not feasible, given the lawyers’ illness.

“The urgency remains because every day we don’t know your ruling means one less day that we have to make preparations trying to obtain some form of reprieve,” she told the judge.

But the government lawyers insisted there was plenty of time to hash out the dispute. They argued there was “no particular reason” the case needed to be litigated over the weekend.

If executed, Montgomery would be the first woman executed in the United States in almost 70 years. She is set to die by lethal injection at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

In 2004, Montgomery was convicted of murdering Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant. Montgomery cut Stinnett’s unborn child from her womb with a kitchen knife. The child was missing but was later found and survived.

Attorneys and supporters for Montgomery have argued that she suffers from several mental disorders that emerged due to a lifetime of abuse.

They say she was sexually trafficked by her stepfather, who repeatedly allowed friends to gang-rape her, and then later was sexually trafficked to men by her mother.

Attorneys have also said that Montgomery was born with brain damage because her mother abused alcohol while pregnant with her.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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