The U.S. government now plans to execute the first female inmate in almost six decades on Jan. 12, just days before the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden, an opponent of the death penalty.
A federal judge delayed the execution of Lisa Montgomery last week after two of her Tennessee-based public defenders contracted severe cases of COVID-19. The delay was meant to allow her attorneys to recover from the virus and file a clemency petition on her behalf.
Assistant federal public defenders Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell had asked the court to delay the execution after they each caught COVID-19 during last-ditch efforts to save Montgomery's life.
Sandra Babcock, a clinical law professor at Cornell Law School who has previously entered declarations to the court on the case, told The Tennessean of the USA TODAY Network last week that the district court’s ruling gives Montgomery time to prepare and present a clemency application.
"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 said. "She will now have the opportunity to present this evidence to the President with a request that he commute her sentence to life imprisonment."
Montgomery was convicted in 2007 of fatally strangling a 23-year-old pregnant woman, cutting open her body and kidnapping her baby.
Her lawyers have argued that Montgomery suffers from serious mental illnesses.
Babcock said “it is difficult to grasp the extremity of the horrors Lisa suffered from her earliest childhood."
"No one intervened to help Lisa, though many knew what was happening to her," she said.
The Justice Department resumed federal executions this year after a 17-year hiatus. Eight people have been executed since July, more than during the previous half-century, despite waning public support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Contributing: Mariah Timms, Nashville Tennesean; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lisa Montgomery execution rescheduled for Jan. 12 after COVID delay