Death Penalty

US District Court grants Lisa Montgomery last minute stay of Jan. 12 execution, scheduled as part of President’s 13-Person Killing Spree

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

Lisa Montgomery — whose case WitnessLA has written about twice before — was scheduled to be executed tomorrow, Tuesday, January 12,  at 6 p.m. in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Montgomery’s planned execution,  as part of President Donald Trump’s 13-person federal execution spree, which he and the DOJ hopes to complete before January 20.

Now, in a remarkable development, U.S. District Court Judge James Patrick Hanlon of the Southern District of Indiana, has granted Montgomery a stay.

By Tuesday morning, Montgomery’s legal situation was complicated by two additional appeals, meaning her case will likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s the deal:

Lisa Montgomery’s attorneys recently filed a petition for  a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the hope of persuading the court, in the person of Judge Hanlon, that she is “incompetent to be executed” due to a 1986 precedent known as Ford v. Wainwright, therefore her execution should be stayed.

(Ford v. Wainwright prohibits the execution of a prisoner whose mental illness prevents him or her from ‘rationally understanding’ why the State seeks to impose that punishment.)

Given the fact that, thus far, efforts to stop any of the first ten of the president’s executions set since July 2020, have proved unsuccessful, the petition for the writ for Montgomery — who is one of three still on the killing schedule — seemed like a Hail Mary pass.

Then, astonishingly, late on Monday, January 11, the judge granted the appeal.

Montgomery and her lawyers didn’t contest the validity of her conviction, or of the sentence imposed — although many familiar with her case have written about why they oppose the latter.

“Rather, the sole issue presented,” wrote Judge Hanlon in his ruling, “is whether the government may lawfully execute Ms. Montgomery in her current mental state.”

Specifically Montgomery’s counsel told the court that executing their client would be unconstitutional because her current mental condition makes her unable to understand why the government seeks to execute her. (It’s far more complicated, but this is the bottom line.)

They asked the court to stay the execution, and then hold a hearing in order to make findings about Montgomery’s current mental condition based on “a fully developed record.”

Horror producing horror

Those who have read WLA’s previous reporting on the case know that the crime of which Lisa Montgomery was convicted  horrific.

A week before Christmas in 2004, Montgomery  conned her way into the home of a young pregnant mother named Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore. Once inside, she attacked and strangled Stinnett to death and kidnapped her baby, cutting the 8-month unborn child out of her victim’s body with a knife. The baby was a little girl and she lived. When Montgomery got home, she attempted to pass off the infant as her own.

Again, those pleading for clemency for Montgomery, don’t argue her guilt. Instead, they point to her childhood that was abusive in the extreme, and her resulting deteriorated mental and emotional health, are all glaring mitigating factors that her legal representation at the time of her trial inexplicably failed to present to the jury at sentencing, and reportedly seemed not to fully comprehend themselves.

From the time she was a toddler, into her adulthood, Montgomery experienced relentless physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother, her step father, and a string of other men — according to her cousin, her half sister, her half brother, and others, including her stepfather’s employer.

When Montgomery’s mother divorced her dad, then remarried, she reportedly allowed her new husband to rape the younger girl repeatedly, putting her in a special room on the family property for that purpose. The new stepfather also reportedly urged his cronies to gang rape the teenager on multiple occasions, beating her during the rapes, urinating on her afterward. The horrors, which included being sex-trafficked for cash by her mother as she got older, continued into adulthood.

According to her present lawyers, as a consequence of the abuse, Montgomery has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, dissociative disorder, and general psychosis. She also reportedly regularly dissociates and hallucinates.

Furthermore, M.R.I. scans of Montgomery’s brain, reportedly show a number of abnormalities indicating brain damage, and various forms of brain dysfunction.

A fair hearing

In explaining his ruling, Judge Hanlon wrote that Montgomery’s lawyers had argued in their petition that executing Ms. Montgomery without first providing the “fair hearing” required by Ford v. Wainwright would violate her right to due process under the Fifth Amendment.

“To succeed on the Fifth Amendment claim,” wrote Hanlon, Montgomery’s counsel had to make a “substantial threshold showing of insanity.'”

Montgomery’s counsel, he continued, did in fact make the “required substantial threshold showing and, in doing so, demonstrated a strong likelihood on the Fifth Amendment claim.”

Hanlon also appeared to be persuaded by the declarations submitted by three medical experts regarding Montgomery’s severely deteriorated mental and emotional health.  The experts at least hit the required bar needed for a “preliminary showing that Ms. Montgomery’s current mental state would bar her execution,” wrote the judge.

The DOJ has, of course, has presented its own “contrary evidence,” including transcripts of Montgomery’s recent phone conversations and reports from BOP staff observations.

“While this evidence,” wrote Judge Hanlon, “certainly shows that Ms. Montgomery understands that she is supposed to be executed soon, it does not demonstrate that she rationally understands the ‘meaning and purpose of the punishment.'”

That last part is the critical distinction.

There’s more to the ruling, which you can read for yourself here, but the bottom line is that Lisa Montgomery’s motion to stay her execution in order to allow the court to conduct “a hearing to determine Ms. Montgomery’s competence to be executed,” was granted in time to stop her execution tomorrow.

The Court, wrote Judge Hanlon, “will set a time and date for the hearing in a separate order in due course.”

Montgomery’s advocates hope, of course,  that the aforementioned “time and date” will be set after June 20, 2021.

Her advocates also hope that the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t decide to reverse Hanlon’s stay, as the Trump administration would like them to do, as of Tuesday morning when acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall,  urged the Supremes to “immediately set aside this unwarranted obstacle to carrying out a lawful death sentence.”

Added to everything,  USP Terre Haute, the prison where Montgomery and two others, are scheduled to die, is experiencing a large outbreak of COVID-19 with 657 residents and 70 staff members testing positive for the virus between Dec. 2, 2020, and Jan. 7 2021.

Among those who have reportedly contracted COVID-19 are Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs, the other two people scheduled to be put to death by the federal government this week.

And, just in case you’ve forgotten. there have been only three federal executions in the past 30 years, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1988.  And, until President Trump fired up the capital punishment engine this past summer, there have been  zero executions since 2003.

Bottom line….stay tuned.


  • Her crime was premeditated and incredibly vicious. She slaughtered a complete stranger, cut her babe from her womb and stole the child.

    She clearly had no empathy for her victim. This story inspires nightmares. It is hard to feel any compassion for this offender.

    Imagine the victim was your daughter. What would you want, execution!

  • The title of this article, “….Part of President’s 13-Person Killing Spree.” You and your cohorts or commrades were already ranked low with regards to journalistic integrity, fairness and balance, but to put this inflammatory statement into the title for an article like this is just disgusting. I’m sure the “shock value” in the title is fodder for those who subscribe to the idealogy but for those that don’t, it will either immediately turn them away or perhaps spark their curiosity like a billboard advertisement for a carnival freak show.

    I’m sure you and your fellow far-left journalist believe they have a “mandate” and are supported by their colleagues due to the awards and accolades they receive from the like minded. Very much reminiscent of any self-serving, self-congratulatory trade group or other esoteric body of the “like minded.” However, remember the Nationalist Socialist Party under the rule of Adolf Hilter also rewarded it’s disciples with plenty of “bling”, praise and awards for spreading propaganda and carrying out the work of the “Party.” Just like the old saying, “all money isn’t good money.”

    Shameful so-called journalism.

  • President’s killing spree?? Did Trump arrest, try and convict those who have been legally executed? No. The peoples’ system of justice, flawed as it may be, is still the best one on planet earth.
    You and your ilk sure have a naive, myopic and misinformed understanding of the evil that truly exists around us.
    While you may think I’m cold hearted and wrong, I still pray that your understanding and beliefs can somehow allow you to realize clarity in the too distant future without the horror of violence striking close to you or any whom you care about.

  • “President’s killing spree”?

    Come on, now. Where’s the journalistic integrity?

    Considering this monster’s crime, she absolutely doesn’t deserve another minute above ground.

  • Point to Ponder

    James Patrick Hanlon is the Federal Court judge who made the ruling.

    He is a Trump appointee.

  • So what. Killing and murder, not in the same ballpark for all of you that don’t get it and pretend that there’s no difference.

  • Editor’s note.

    Yep. And, although I only have this one ruling to go on, it was very well written, smart, and fair-minded, with a very clear explanation of the underlying precedents he was relying on in considering the stay. There were multiple appeals this morning, and now it’s gone to the top rung, and everyone’s waiting for SCOTUS.


  • Cmon Celeste killing spree? Government sanctioned executions are legal and pass through a series of checks and balances. Something most murders don’t grant to their victims. The fact you may be anti death penalty doesn’t give you the right to refer to it as a killing spree. It is a slap in the face to the families of the victims. Your words remind me of liberals referring to the capital protests as an insurrection and BLM/Antifa protests as peaceful demonstrations.

  • Editor’s Note:

    Bandwagon, I can understand your objection to the term. But, here’s why I used it even if you still may not agree with my choice. There have been only three executions by the federal government in more than thirty years. And, zero federal prisoners have been executed since 2003. Until President Trump, who has executed 10 people in the last six months of 2020, and is fighting tooth-and-nail to get another three executed before January 20, despite a number of reasons that it makes sense to wait on these last three, two of whom have COVID-19, and the other is Lisa Montgomery, who should have a competency hearing.

    Nevertheless, I understand if you and others still disagree with the term — and the POV it represents.


  • So, if the soon to be Harris/Biden administration decides to continue with these execution it will be okay? A clear case of, “I don’t have a problem with the message, I just have a problem with the person delivering it.” A case of prejudice, racism, implicit bias/hate, unequal justice, bigotry from the “social justice warrior” crew. The extreme views of the left and right aren’t so different after all. Its all a just matter of perception from ones own self-serving and idealogical point.

  • Celeste. Why does a diagnosis of COVID 19 stop you from paying for your crimes? We didn’t as the criminals if they were not feeling well on the day they committed their crimes, nor did you care about the victims condition — dead. Get real.

  • Bandwagon, that is the most idiotic statement I have heard in while on this site. Of course, Celeste has a right to call it a “killing spree” or whatever she wants. Its her site, no crime was committed, she can say whatever she wants. You pay for the hosting of your blog and you can call it whatever you want. And, slap in the face of the victims? Like you and your ilk care about the victims. Half of the people you bitch about where at some points victims themselves. What hypocrisy.

    No, Conspiracy, there is a difference. The right is made up of a bunch of racists. Funny how those at the Capitol looked like the folks on Duck Dynasty or Rosanne. Not much color there. They embraced their racism, you can embrace yours. But, alas, the South shall not rise again. And, if it does, it will do so with some black senators. I know it hurts to see the country you knew and loved, which others cursed, the one that told you you were better because you were white, the one that put blacks in their place, homosexuals in the closet, and kept women in the bedroom, go down the drain and get trampled on. One man’s nightmare is another man’s dream.

    And, at what point do you ladies throw a tantrum and get on your soap box and demand the crowd be prosecuted for the police officer that was killed. Was that not murder? Or, is it murder only when the perpetrator looks like someone on the Chappelle show but not when they look like someone on Duck Dynasty. Well, no worries, talk about two birds. Wait, three birds, I heard Capitan Orange just got impeached, once again. This is going from bad to worse for you ladies – first you lose the presidency, then the Senate, a couple hundred of your racist brethren about about to be charge, and now capitan orange gets impeached, once again. Trump was right, I am tired of winning.

  • “The Incoherent, Juvenile, Idiotic Ramblings of a Certified Fool”, by a Childish Fool (CF). Help is but a phone call away.


  • CF…Happy New Years 2 You. I stay away from this site and commenting cause when I go 10-8 I don’t know who to trust…the witness, victim, bad guy of color or my partner whose not of color.

    I’ll keep praying in 2021 that some how, some way we get it right soon n very soon hopefully.

    Stay Blessed

  • WOW! You knew how to make a call. It reminds me of the child sitting on the potty chair saying, “look mom I made doody”. Good for you!

    Oh…interesting….LAPD is still recruiting while being defunded and the city facing a massive budget crisis? Who would of thought.

  • Skydiving.

    It teaches you that there’s only one person you can trust: yourself.

    if not, you go


  • I have no words for your inhuman tone. Have you really read the article? What is for you the difference of having Lisa in prison for a life time or killing her?
    The difference would have been HUGE for her and for all the human rights.

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