Lisa Montgomery, the Melvern woman on death row for the 2004 murder of a pregnant woman, has been granted a stay less than 24 hours before her scheduled execution.
Montgomery had been scheduled to die Tuesday evening at the Terre Haute, Ind., penitentiary that houses the federal death row, becoming the first federally executed woman since 1953.
But Judge Patrick Hanlon of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana late Monday evening granted Montgomery’s petition for a stay, pointing to the need for an evidentiary hearing to determine if Montgomery is mentally competent to face execution.
Last-minute motions, Hanlon noted in his order, are typical in death row cases and are often intended to delay execution. But Hanlon said he saw enough merit in Montgomery’s claims to warrant a delay, at least for now.
“As discussed elsewhere in this order, Ms. Montgomery has been diagnosed with physical brain impairments and multiple mental illnesses, and three experts are of the opinion that, based on conduct and symptoms reported to them by counsel, Ms. Montgomery’s perception of reality is currently distorted and impaired,” Hanlon wrote.
Montgomery’s lawyer Kelley Henry praised the judge’s decision, as her legal team for years has argued that Montgomery’s background — rife with abuse, traumatic experiences, and mental illness — made her unfit for execution under the Eighth Amendment and possibly played a role in the 2004 murder.
“As the court found, Mrs. Montgomery ‘made a strong showing’ of her current incompetence to be executed,” Henry said in a statement. “Mrs. Montgomery has brain damage and severe mental illness that was exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers.”
Montgomery was convicted in 2007 of the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett after Montgomery traveled to Missouri, cut a baby out of Stinnett’s uterus, and attempted to pass the baby as her own.