A judge says the US Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled the execution of the only woman on federal death row, potentially setting up the Trump administration to schedule the execution after president-elect Joe Biden takes office.
US District Court Judge Randolph Moss also vacated an order from the director of the Bureau of Prisons that had set Lisa Montgomery’s execution date for January 12.
Montgomery was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004.
She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then a kitchen knife to cut the baby girl from the womb, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Montgomery removed the baby from Stinnett’s body, took the child with her, and attempted to pass the girl off as her own.
Her legal team has argued their client suffers from serious mental illnesses.
Montgomery had previously been scheduled to be put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, this month, but Moss delayed the execution after her lawyers contracted coronavirus visiting their client and asked him to extend the amount of time to file a clemency petition.
Moss prohibited the Bureau of Prisons from carrying out Montgomery’s execution before the end of the year and officials rescheduled her execution date for January 12.
But Moss ruled on Wednesday that the agency was also prohibited from rescheduling the date while a stay was in place.
The execution of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, has been delayed a second time.
Montgomery, 52, got the death penalty in 2008 for killing a pregnant woman and stealing her fetus.https://t.co/EzpZrkYOiz
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) December 26, 2020
“The Court, accordingly, concludes that the Director’s order setting a new execution date while the Court’s stay was in effect was ‘not in accordance with law,”‘ Moss wrote.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the order, the Bureau of Prisons cannot reschedule Montgomery’s execution until at least January 1.
Generally, under Justice Department guidelines, a death-row inmate must be notified at least 20 days before the execution.
Because of the judge’s order, if the Justice Department chooses to reschedule the date in January, it could mean that the execution would be scheduled after Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
A spokesperson for Biden has told The Associated Press the president-elect “opposes the death penalty now and in the future” and would work as president to end its use in office.
But Biden’s representatives have not said whether executions would be paused immediately once he takes office.
Two other federal inmates are scheduled to be executed in January but have tested positive for coronavirus and their lawyers are also seeking delays to their executions.