A federal judge has put the scheduled execution of the only woman on federal death row on hold amid a battle over a stay of execution.
Lisa Montgomery, 52, was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Montgomery strangled Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then used a kitchen knife to cut the baby girl from the womb.
Montgomery, who kidnapped the baby and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, was convicted of federal kidnapping resulting in death in October 2007 and was sentenced to be executed.
Montgomery's execution date was initially scheduled for Dec. 8, 2020, according to court documents.
But in November, U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss granted a stay-of-execution order to allow Montgomery's attorneys to recover from COVID-19 and prepare a petition for Montgomery to receive executive clemency from President Donald Trump.
After the stay was granted, the Justice Department rescheduled Montgomery's execution for Jan. 12, 2021. Currently, she is being held in a federal prison in Texas, but was scheduled to be put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Moss ruled on Thursday that the Bureau of Prisons acted illegally in resetting Montgomery's execution date and that a new execution date may not be scheduled while the stay-of-execution order remains in effect.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department, which oversees the Bureau of Prisons, did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Montgomery's attorneys agreed with the Moss' ruling.
"The district court's decision requires the government to follow the law by not setting an execution date for Lisa Montgomery while a stay of execution is in place," Sandra Babock, an attorney for Montgomery, said in a statement.
Montgomery's lawyers have argued that their client suffers from serious mental illnesses.
"[Montgomery] suffers from a dissociative disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and other serious mental illnesses exacerbated by the extreme physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she endured beginning in early childhood," said Babcock.
Montgomery had a deadline to file a "petition for commutation of sentence" by Nov. 15, but in early November her two lawyers fell ill with COVID-19 and could not work on Montgomery's behalf.
The attorneys then filed a motion to stay the scheduled execution, arguing Montgomery would be denied access to the critical "fail safe" in the criminal justice system by not being given a meaningful opportunity to apply for clemency, according to court documents.
Moss granted the stay on Nov. 19 -- the ruling on Thursday prohibits a new date of execution to be rescheduled while the stay is in place until Jan. 1.
"The Court, accordingly, concludes that the Director's order setting a new execution date while the Court's stay was in effect was 'not in accordance with law,'" Moss wrote.
Judge delays execution of only woman on federal death row originally appeared on abcnews.go.com