A federal judge has halted the execution of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, pending the outcome of a competency hearing.
The order came down moments before midnight on Monday, just hours before Montgomery, 52, was scheduled to die.
Attorneys for Montgomery had argued that her death would violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits executing people who don’t understand their crimes because of severe mental illness or brain damage.
Montgomery has brain damage because her mother drank while pregnant. She also has been diagnosed with mental illness caused by years of being repeatedly tortured and trafficked for sex as a young girl and adolescent, her lawyers said.
U.S. District Judge James Hanlon of the Southern District of Indiana stayed the execution to determine if Montgomery is competent to be executed.
A date has not been scheduled for the hearing.
Federal prosecutors have vowed to appeal Judge Hanlon’s ruling.
Kelley Henry, an attorney for Montgomery, hailed the judge’s decision.
“The Court was right to put a stop to Lisa Montgomery’s execution. As the court found, Ms. Montgomery ‘made a strong showing’ of her current incompetence to be executed. Ms. Montgomery has brain damage and severe mental illness that was exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers,” Ms. Henry said in a statement.
“Ms. Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence,” the statement continued.
Montgomery had been scheduled to die Tuesday by lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In 2008, Montgomery was sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of a pregnant Missouri woman. Montgomery used a kitchen knife to cut the 8-month-old fetus out of her mother’s womb and kidnapped it.
The baby eventually was recovered and survived.
Separately, a federal judge for the U.S. District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling Tuesday.
Johnson, who was convicted of killing seven people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, and Higgs, who was convicted of ordering the murders of three women in Maryland, both tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
Delays of any of this week’s scheduled executions beyond President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration next Tuesday would likely mean they will not happen any time soon, or ever, since a Biden administration is expected to oppose carrying out federal death sentences.
The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Brown Heady on Dec. 18, 1953, for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Missouri.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.