A U.S. federal judge said that the Justice Department broke the law when it rescheduled the execution of the only woman on federal death row last month, potentially pushing her execution into Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s new administration.
U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Thursday vacated an order from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Justice Department, that had rescheduled convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery’s execution to Jan. 12.
Her execution had originally been scheduled for Dec. 8, but Moss agreed last month to delay after Montgomery’s attorneys fell ill with COVID-19 and were unable to file a timely clemency petition on her behalf.
Moss on Nov. 19 gave Montgomery’s lawyers until Dec. 24 to file the clemency request and granted Montgomery a stay of execution until Dec. 31. On Nov. 23, the Bureau of Prisons announced it was rescheduling her execution to Jan. 12, 2021.
Moss on Thursday sided with Montgomery’s lawyers, who argued that federal regulations bar the Bureau of Prisons from rescheduling an execution during a stay period. Under Moss’s Thursday order, the Bureau of Prisons cannot set a new date for Montgomery’s execution until Jan. 1.
Justice Department rules require inmates be notified of their execution date at least 20 days beforehand, except when the date follows a postponement of fewer than 20 days. That means Montgomery’s execution could be pushed to after Biden, who opposes the death penalty, takes office on Jan. 20.
The Justice Department, under Attorney General William Barr, who stepped down earlier this week, resumed the use of the federal death penalty earlier this year following a 17-year hiatus.
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 of the womb. Her lawyers had said that Montgomery has long suffered from severe mental illness and was the victim of sexual assault.
“Given the severity of Mrs. Montgomery’s mental illness, the sexual and physical torture she endured throughout her life, and the connection between her trauma and the facts of her crime, we appeal to President Trump to grant her mercy, and commute her sentence to life imprisonment,” Sandra Babcock, an attorney for Montgomery and clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not immediately provide comment on the Christmas holiday.