Mentally ill female killer executed

Convicted killer Lisa Montgomery, 52, lost her spirited battle to survive the Trump administration. She was executed Wednesday morning, January 13, 2021, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate a lower court’s stay of execution that had been overturned by a federal appeals court. Read story here.

Montgomery committed a horrific crime. In 2004 she stole a baby by strangling its mother and cutting it out of her body. The victim, Bobbi Jo Stinnett, 23, ran a dog breeding business and Montgomery gained access to Stinnett’s home by posing as a dog buyer.

She was prosecuted under the federal “Lindbergh” kidnapping law, enacted in response to the infamous Lindbergh infant kidnapping case, which carries the death penalty in cases resulting in death of the victim.

That Montgomery was mentally ill was never disputed. However, in American law, a successful insanity defense requires proving the culprit didn’t know right from wrong. Despite her mental illness, she was able to conceive, plan, and carry out a complicated crime that included faking pregnancy to convince others that she herself had given birth to the stolen baby. At trial, the jury rejected her delusion defense.

But U.S. law doesn’t just excuse insane persons from criminal responsibility; it also forbids executing a person who is too mentally ill or delusional to understand why they’re being put to death. That was the argument Montgomery’s lawyers used to buy time while the clock ran down on the Trump administration. For several weeks, it looked like they might succeed.

They hoped that President-Elect Biden, who opposes the death penalty and has said he’ll work to end it, would spare her life. Whether he would have isn’t clear; while his position on the death penalty is unambiguous, he hasn’t overtly committed to intervene to stop the executions of inmates currently on federal death row. That may become moot, as the Trump administration — no doubt impelled by the heartless man at the top — has been rushing to shovel them all into the federal death chamber before Biden takes office.

The death penalty, of course, is controversial. Generally speaking, conservatives support it, while liberals oppose it. Some crimes cry out for it, but a flawed justice system has made its imposition arbitrary, it’s tainted by racial disparities, and flawed trials have resulted in dozens of innocent people being convicted and sentenced to death who later were exonerated. There also are problems with the execution process itself.

Most other countries have abolished it. On the global stage, the fact the U.S. still executes people weakens its arguments in confronting China’s prolific use of the death penalty. It’s harder to credibly criticize their practices, when we do it ourselves. From a punitive standpoint, life in prison without hope of release can be worse than death, especially in the harsh solitary confines of Florence ADX, where terrorists and bombers are sent.

In Montgomery’s case, there was no doubt of her guilt, and her execution appears to have gone without a hitch (as these things go). In her case the debate was, and will continue to be, about her culpability given her mental state. Her crime was monstrous; the question is whether she was a monster. The crime, I believe, was deserving of death; the issue is whether, given her mental disabilities, imposing it and carrying it out was the right thing to do. There’s a large element of society who will dismiss that without consideration, but people who don’t think are untroubled by lots of things that vex people who do, aren’t they?

Finally, one can’t discuss the current spate of federal executions without implicating Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t think, kneejerks everything, and calls on his adoring followers to do the same. As the morally-bereft man who ran a full-page newspaper advertisement calling for the execution of the so-called “Central Park Five” — a group of innocent young black men accused of a brutal rape — and subsequently decried the civil settlements awarded to these men after they were exonerated for the years they spent in prison, Donald Trump has no moral authority whatsoever on the subject of the death penalty. Yet he’s in charge of it on the federal level.

The fact his unthinking pursuit of executions in the dying days of his administration contributed to Montgomery’s execution doesn’t necessarily render it wrongful or unfair. Let’s not forget she was a heinous murderer. But adding the patina of Trump’s characteristic bloodthirsty rush to judgment to the issues surrounding her mental illness is bound to detract from the appearance of justice, and make it look like a lynching even if it wasn’t.

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  1. Mark S Adams #

    Until such time as Congress firmly ends the death penalty perhaps even doing an amendment to the US Constitution bringing an end to the death penalty. Since it is permitted in the US Constitution the death penalty is not a cruel or unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has ended the death penalty for some time, but politics, time, new cases challenging the courts ruling, and new judges cracked the courts resolve. Perhaps showing that we are a nation of laws rather than of men.
    Generally every case the death penalty can be imposed is due to a heinous crime. There are always some human beings that are evil so there will be no end of situations where the death penalty seems appropriate. Yet most murderers, kidnappers, ect are generally nuts, were ill treated, or low IQ. The bar of being able to show the defendant knows right and wrong is very low. All dom3estic cats are little murderers it is part of their being. All human beings are capable of murder, and on the plains of Africa or on the tundra ones survival may have depended on killing.
    This frankly is not these executions are happening because Trump is in office. Many Republicans and Democrats consider it the President’s duty and obligation to ensure executions take place in the prison system. This on again and off again death penalty is worse than doing away with the penalty. President Biden probably will not do any executions, but nor will he change the sentences of those on death row to life in prison. Those on death row on January 20th will remain on death row until at least the next President. Now that is a cruel and unusual punishment and if there is any utility in there being a death penalty the appeals process should be swift or a lesser penalty invoked, and the guilty should be executed swiftly when the appeals have run out.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    I assume you’re speaking for yourself when you say, “All human beings are capable of murder.” I’m not.

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