[Pnews] How the System Kept Failing the Only Woman on Federal Death Row

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 7 10:37:58 EST 2021


  How the System Kept Failing the Only Woman on Federal Death Row

By Victoria Law

    Throughout Lisa Montgomery’s life, authorities repeatedly failed to
    stop the extreme violence and abuse that she suffered.

January 6, 2021

On Christmas Eve, a federal court ruled that the government had acted 
illegally when it set a new execution date for Lisa Montgomery, the only 
woman on federal death row. For Montgomery, whose life has been shaped 
by chronic violence and the failures of those in power to stop the 
abuse, it was one of the few times the government had ever stepped in to 
protect her.

Four days later, however, the federal government rescheduled 
Montgomery’s execution for January 12. If she survives until the 
inauguration on January 20, she will likely live. President-elect Joe 
Biden does not support the death penalty.

On December 24, her attorneys, recently recovered from Covid-19, filed 
Montgomery’s clemency petition <https://tinyurl.com/ybawop7b>, pleading 
with President Donald Trump to commute her death sentence to life 
without parole or, at the very least, grant a reprieve so that they 
could conduct an investigation into the extreme violence, trauma, and 
trafficking that Montgomery had experienced.One week later, on January 
1, a three-judge panel of the court of appeals vacated the ruling, thus 
reinstating Montgomery’s execution date. Without intervention at the 
federal level, Montgomery could become the first woman executed by the 
federal government in nearly 70 years 

On January 5, the appeal court denied Montgomery’s en banc petition, 
which asked the entire court to review the panel’s decision. Her legal 
team is now filing an appeal with the US Supreme Court.

When viewed on its own, Montgomery’s crime is horrific and senseless 
In 2004, on the pretense of buying a puppy, Montgomery drove from Kansas 
to the Missouri home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a dog breeder who was eight 
months pregnant. She strangled Stinnett, cut open her abdomen, and 
removed her fetus. She took the baby girl home and attempted to pass off 
the newborn as her own. She was arrested the next day; the baby was 
returned to Stinnett’s husband.

But her action was the culmination of a lifetime of violence, abuse, and 
untreated mental illnesses. Her mother, Judy Shaughnessy, drank 
throughout her pregnancy; she beat and tormented her children, proudly 
telling an investigator that her daughter’s first sentence was “Don’t 
spank me, it hurts.” After Montgomery’s father abandoned the family, 
Shaughnessy married Jack Kleiner, who regularly raped Montgomery. When 
the family moved to a remote part of Osage County, Okla., Kleiner built 
a trailer with a separate entrance to Montgomery’s room, where he would 
rape her. Her mother knew about the sexual assaults, testifying about it 
in later divorce proceedings, and did nothing to stop it. Instead, 
according to multiple court documents, she allowed other men to rape her 
daughter as well.

Again and again other adults—including the divorce court judge, a 
counselor, and Montgomery’s cousin who was a deputy sheriff—failed to 
intervene. “Everyone knew what Jack had done to her—but no one helped,” 
her clemency petition noted.

The abuse continued throughout Montgomery’s adult life and two 
marriages. She increasingly exhibited signs of mental illness. After the 
birth of her fourth child, she had a tubal ligation. Her mental health 
deteriorated further. One night, she woke all four children, put them 
into the family van, put a diaper on a pet goat, and drove all night to 
San Antonio to see the Alamo. Even then, no one brought her to a doctor 
or counselor for treatment.

Despite her sterilization, Montgomery believed she was pregnant on 
several occasions, going so far as to buy a crib and other baby items. 
She never told her second husband about her sterilization; instead, in 
2004, she told him that she was pregnant. When her first husband 
threatened to expose her imaginary pregnancy, she drove to Stinnett’s 
house, killed her, and took her baby.

In 2007, Montgomery went to trial. Her attorney, Dave Owen, initially 
brought on Judy Clarke, a renowned capital defense attorney, as part of 
the defense team. Clarke began building a team to mount a defense based 
on Montgomery’s life-long history of extreme abuse and sexual violence, 
post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, and mental illnesses. 
But Owen bristled at Clarke’s leadership and had her dismissed from the 
team. He then brought on Frederick Duchardt, an attorney /The Guardian 
/would later call “the [death row] lawyer who keeps losing 

At trial, the defense presented nearly no evidence of the violence 
Montgomery had suffered. They called Montgomery’s half-sister, Dianne 
Mattingly, who had also suffered abuse and been raped repeatedly by 
friends of her stepmother. When she was 8 years old, Mattingly was 
removed from the home, because her stepmother lacked legal guardianship. 
(The girls’ father had, by then, abandoned them.) Mattingly remembered 
vomiting in the social worker’s car when she realized that she was 
leaving her sister to endure the same abuse and sexual violence that she 
had just escaped. That was the last time she saw her baby sister until 
her trial decades later. It was her first time testifying in court, and 
no one had prepared her. “I didn’t know what I was allowed to say and 
what I’m not allowed to say,” Mattingly told me. On the stand, no one 
asked her about the violence and rapes she had experienced in her 
stepmother’s home.

Prosecutors downplayed Montgomery’s previous abuse by her mother, 
stepfather, and husbands. Montgomery was convicted and sentenced to 
death. She is not only the sole woman on federal death row, but also the 
only woman sentenced to death for such a crime. There are at least 18 
other women who, like Montgomery, suffered a lifetime of abuse and 
killed pregnant women to steal their fetuses. None faced the death 
penalty; state prosecutors of two of these women even wrote a letter 
calling for Trump to commute her sentence 

“We have not seen any other case in which lawyers have failed so 
spectacularly at presenting evidence that was at their fingertips,” said 
Sandra Babcock, faculty director of the Cornell Center on the Death 
Penalty and the attorney who filed for a stay of execution when 
Montgomery’s attorneys were stricken with Covid-19. Babcock filed a 
petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 
on the grounds that Montgomery’s debilitating mental illness and lack of 
competent counsel are violations of her human rights. The petition also 
charged that state actors (such as the divorce court judge and the 
deputy sheriff) failing to intervene in Montgomery’s abuse, her current 
conditions of confinement (she’s under 24-hour watch by video camera and 
male officers), and scheduling her execution during a pandemic so that 
she has less access to courts and the clemency process constitute 
violations of her human rights.

On December 1, the Commission called on the United States to stay 
Montgomery’s execution. The Trump administration has thus far ignored 
that call.

At the same time, Covid-19 is sweeping through the federal prison 
at Terre Haute, Ind., where all federal executions take place. The 
prison currently has 336 confirmed cases among its prisoners 
<https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/>, including at least 14 of the men 
scheduled for execution 
At least nine prison staffers 
who participated in executions have contracted Covid-19. Even 
transporting Montgomery from the federal prison in Fort Worth, Tex., to 
Terre Haute brings additional risk of coronavirus exposure both to her 
and to the federal marshals assigned to guard her. “The Department of 
Justice can choose to withdraw the execution date if they believe the 
Covid-19 pandemic poses too much of a risk,” said Kelley Henry, 
Montgomery’s attorney. “We know these executions are super-spreader 

Montgomery’s clemency petition rests on the willingness of Trump, whose 
administration cut funding for trafficking survivors to clear their 
criminal records 
and who has been accused by over two dozen women of sexual misconduct 
to find compassion for Montgomery. Fortunately, he is not the only 
avenue of relief.

In addition to the appeal to be filed before the US Supreme Court, 
Babcock said that there was one argument that had been presented before 
the US District Court but not decided. According to the Federal Death 
Penalty Act, the federal government must implement the sentence 
following the law in the state 
where the crime took place. In Missouri, the law requires at least 90 
days notice for an execution and that the state not be required to 
execute more than one person per month. Montgomery’s execution, 
scheduled less than 60 days, will be the first of three federal 
executions <https://www.bop.gov/resources/federal_executions_info.jsp> 
in January before Trump leaves office. When issuing his original stay of 
execution, the district court judge did not address that argument; now, 
Montgomery’s attorneys will ask him to do so.

Meanwhile, Lisa Montgomery remains in prison, uncertain whether she will 
be killed on January 12. It’s another torment in a life saturated with 

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