TW: The following contains details of sexual assault and violence.
Update: Lisa Montgomery’s execution has been temporarily halted by the last-minute ruling of a federal judge in Indiana. The judge ruled, late on Monday evening just hours before Lisa was been scheduled to undergo lethal injection at the federal women’s prison in Texas, that she was not of a fit mental state to understand what was happening to her.
The Justice Department has filed an appeal of that ruling with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, asking the court to set aside what it called an “unwarranted obstacle” so the government could proceed as planned and carry out a legal death sentence for a “crime of staggering brutality”.
The U.S court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also voted to stay the execution in order to hold hearings on whether the Justice Department gave insufficient notice of Montgomery’s execution date.
These hearings are likely to be held later in the month, after Biden has assumed the Presidency. As stated below, Biden is against the death penalty and seeking to abolish it federally meaning Lisa may actually be spared her fate. Senate Democrats announced legislation on Monday that would abolish the death penalty.
On Tuesday the 12th of January, the US intends to execute its first female prisoner in over 70 years. Lisa Montgomery has spent the past 13 years on death row in Texas where she has been convicted of the brutal killing of a pregnant mother and the abduction of her baby.
Trump will be the first President in over a century to continue the execution of people on death row during the so-called “lame duck” period of the transition of power when death sentences are typically halted.
He has also overseen 13 federal executions, only three of which had ever previously taken place since the policy was reinstated in 1988. He’s also pushing to rush the executions of a total of six people before the end of his term in office. This is thought to be because President-Elect Biden has stated he will abolish the death penalty, while Trump is strongly pro captial punishment.
One of those people is Lisa Montgomery. This is her gut-wrenching story and the last ditch effort to save her from death in two days time.
Who is Lisa Montgomery?
Lisa Montgomery was born in Kansas in 1968. Her life story reads like the script to the most twisted horror film imaginable. Fair warning, it’s not a nice read.
Her mother, Judy, was an alcoholic who drank during pregnancy resulting in Lisa being born with brain damage. The family was incredibly impoverished and her mother was married six times. A lot of different men and very little money came in and out of the family in the rural back waters of Kansas with little state or social intervention or assistance.
At the age of three, her lifelong experiences of abuse began as she lay beside her eight year old sister while she was raped by their babysitter.
At age 11, her step-father at the time, Jack, began assaulting Lisa herself. The man was apparently a heavy drinker who beat both her and her mother. Jack built a separate room on the other side of their trailer where he would frequently rape her, slamming her head into the concrete if she resisted, causing further traumatic brain injuries. He would lock her in the room and watch her through a hole for hours on end. Lisa learned to curl up in a corner of the room, the only place he couldn’t see her.
When her mother walked in on a rape in progress, she was so outraged that she put a gun to her daughters head and screamed “how could you do this to me?”
Judy soon began joining in on the abuse herself and would prostitute Lisa out to plumbers or electricians when the home needed repairs. She told her daughter this is what she needed to do to earn her keep.
Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Jack would host sadistic parties, inviting friends over to participate in the assaults, culminating in the men urinating on her after abusing her.
During her childhood, Lisa began to disassociate from herself, developing bipolar disorder and complex PTSD as well as depression, mood swings, and memory loss.
Despite going to school dirty and in torn clothing, her teachers never made enquiries into the child’s well-being. Neither did her cousin, the Deputy Sherriff, who she told about the abuse. A social worker once arrived at the house, calling the parents before arrival, but Lisa and her sister were instructed to say everything was fine under threat of death.
It’s a legacy of multiple state and institutional failings at every possible level and an experience of abuse and trauma at a young age that one expert later compared to captured Korean or Vietnamese veterans kept in bamboo cages as prisoners of war.
What Did She Do?
The abuse did not end when Lisa escaped her mother and abusive step father. Forced to marry her step-brother, Carl, at the age of 17, her abuse continued with routine rapes and disturbing physical violence including being tied to chairs and penetrated with glass bottles.
She had four children in four years before being sterilised against her will. Lisa’s psychosis and delusions as a result of the life time of abuse led her to continue to believe she was pregnant, telling many of those around her. Her husband later threatened to divorce her and take her children from her, mounting pressure on Lisa’s fragile mental state.
In December, 2004, at the age of 36, she travelled to Missouri allegedly to purchase a dog from a woman she had met online. Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, was eight months pregnant and believed Lisa was to, something they had bonded over in online conversation. Upon entering her home, Lisa strangled Bobbie to death with a rope and then took a kitchen knife and cut her unborn child from her body.
The child survived and Lisa returned home with the baby, claiming it was her own. When she was arrested at her home the following day, she had the baby in her arms and was watching the news about the murder and kidnapping.
The above gruesome event is the only part of the story that prosecutors, right the way up to the Supreme Court, who denied an appeal to review her case in 2012, appear interested in, but in the context of her lifetime of abuse, explains far more about her own mental state and motivation. This is written not to excuse or deny justice to the murdered woman and her family, but to better understand what would drive someone to do such a thing.
What Happened at Trial?
At trial, things did not improve for Lisa. Her public attorney, Fred Duchardt, has the ignoble distinction of having more clients receive the death penalty than any other lawyer in the country.
Her defence centered around the idea of phantom pregnancy and that Lisa’s mental condition led her to believe the baby was hers. Her attorney did not go into details on her background of abuse or trauma and had few experts or witnesses testify to her mental state.
The defence was mounted after a previous one to frame her step-brother as the killer fell apart due to his rock-solid alibi. Duchardt reportedly read a poem about rape to the jury who didn’t buy any of his arguments and deliberated for under five hours before recommending the death penalty.
What Happens Now?
Post-conviction, Lisa has had a slew of experts and human rights lawyers examine her case in the hopes of overturning her conviction. Post-conviction attorneys compiled investigations with nearly 450 family members, neighbors, lawyers, social workers and teachers to uncover the true details of this horrifying case. Details the jury in the trial never saw.
Janet Vogelsang, a clinical social worker, spent several days talking to Montgomery in 2016, gaining her trust as insight into her background. She produced a massive report on her life riddled with sexual assault, gang rape, sexual trafficking, violence, and constant humiliation and psychological abuse.
The report concludes that Lisa’s experiences amounted to a lifetime of torture. Speaking to the Guardian, she said Lisa “was isolated, brainwashed, humiliated and degraded, not allowed to speak, and beaten at will.”
Sandra Babcock, faculty director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and a consultant to Montgomery’s legal team has said that “this is a story about a woman who is profoundly mentally ill as a result of a lifetime of torture and sexual violence.”
“Lisa is not the worst of the worst – she is the most broken of the broken”, Babcock said, claiming that in her 30 years as a defence lawyer for those facing the death penalty, she has “never seen a case like this”.
“I don’t know of any execution in the US or elsewhere that has been carried out on someone who has been subjected to such unrelenting sexual torture and violence”.
Inescapably, this case is about gender. It hinges not only on the violence perpetrated by men against women but the failures of the state and the courts to acknowledge or see that violence.
“Were it not for her being a woman,” Ms Babcock told The New York Times, “she would not be on death row, because she wouldn’t be subjected to the kind of torture that she was.” Her case, she said, “is all about gender.”
There is currently a petition online for President Trump to halt her execution, initiated by the Cornell Centre on The Death Penalty Worldwide, with 154,000 signatures at the time of writing.
If her execution goes ahead, it will be mounting more abuse, neglect, and death upon this whole sorry affair. Here’s hoping the President, for once, sees reason.