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Judge delays execution of first woman in decades due to lawyers' COVID-19

Judge delays execution of first woman in decades due to lawyers' COVID-19
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A federal judge on Thursday temporarily stopped what was to be the first federal execution of a woman in nearly 60 years, citing her lawyers testing positive for the coronavirus.

The federal government must wait until at least next year to put Lisa Montgomery to death at the Terre Haute, Ind., federal prison complex, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss ruled. Her execution had been scheduled for Dec. 8, according to The Associated Press.

Montgomery was convicted in 2007 of the 2004 strangulation of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant at the time. Montgomery removed the unborn child, who survived, from Stinnett’s womb after the murder. She is one of 55 women currently on death row in the U.S.

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Attorneys Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell both tested positive for the virus after visiting Montgomery in a Texas prison in October and have said their symptoms are too serious to help her file a clemency petition. They have said that she is seriously mentally ill and has no tools with which to file such a petition on her own except a “sheet of paper and a single crayon,” according to the AP.

Montgomery would “lose her statutory right to meaningful representation by counsel in the clemency process” if she is executed while Henry and Harwell are incapacitated, Moss ruled. He called for them to either enlist other lawyers' assistance or file a petition by Dec. 24.

“Mrs. Montgomery’s case presents compelling grounds for clemency, including her history as a victim of gang rape, incest, and child sex trafficking, as well as her severe mental illness. She will now have the opportunity to present this evidence to the President with a request that he commute her sentence to life imprisonment,” Sandra Babcock, another attorney for Montgomery, said in a statement.