Home > Uncategorized > The execution of Lisa Montgomery was an act of moral depravity – posted 1/17/2021

The execution of Lisa Montgomery was an act of moral depravity – posted 1/17/2021

At 1:31am, in the dark of night on January 13, the federal government executed Lisa Montgomery. She was the first woman executed by the federal government in almost 70 years and only the third woman executed by the Feds since 1900.

For a short time in the week before January 13 it had appeared that Montgomery might escape execution. The federal court in Indiana issued a stay so a court could determine Montgomery’s competency. The federal court judge wrote:

“Ms. Montgomery’s mental status is so divorced from reality that she cannot rationally understand the government’s rationale for her execution.”

However, after a flurry of appeals in which the stay was vacated and reinstated, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled to allow the execution to proceed, with Justices Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer dissenting. The Court never explored the matter of Montgomery’s competency.

One hour and fifteen minutes after the Supreme Court ruled, Lisa Montgomery was dead by lethal injection. There was a clemency petition before President Trump but Trump did not have the decency to respond to the petition. He did not bother to deny it or even acknowledge it.

The Trump Administration has been in a big hurry to carry out executions before January 20 when the Biden administration begins. Biden has indicated he would reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty.

Government lawyers have been working 24/7 to conduct as many executions of federal prisoners as possible. Since last July, the federal government has executed Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, Lezmond Mitchell, Keith Nelson, William LeCroy, Christopher Vialva, Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard, Alfred Bourgeois, Corey Johnson, Dustin Higgs and Montgomery.

Before this thirteen person killing spree, it has been seventeen years since any federal prisoners were put to death. In an effort to put this in historical perspective after Dustin Higgs’ execution, Justice Sotomayor wrote:

“…the Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades.”

In court filings before her execution, Montgomery’s lawyers reported she was having auditory hallucinations of her abusive mother’s voice. She believed God was speaking to her through connect-the-dot puzzles.

Montgomery had diagnoses of bipolar disorder, complex PTSD, dissociative disorder, psychosis and traumatic brain injury. She suffered from permanent brain injury and possibly had fetal alcohol syndrome. As an adult, she often dissociated from reality because of the trauma she had experienced. As her lawyer said, her awful crime was the culmination of a lifetime of violence, rape, untreated mental illness and societal failure to stop sexual abuse.

Montgomery’s mental condition had worsened since October. Prison officials had moved her to a suicide cell. Bright lights were never turned off.

She was not allowed to have any of her personal belongings in her cell – no books, legal papers, photos of her children or even her wedding band. Male guards watched her 24 hours a day, including when she used the toilet. The prison authorities took her clothing away and gave her a rubber smock to wear that had velcro snaps. The garment is called a suicide smock.

Montgomery’s lawyers reported that when she was moved to the federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana, shortly before her death, she had completely lost touch with reality.

The U.S. Supreme Court is on record that no legitimate government purpose is served by the execution of someone who is not competent at the time of their execution. In the 2002 case of Ford v Wainwright, the Court addressed a case where there was no suggestion the defendant was incompetent at the time of his offense or at trial but he later deteriorated mentally.

The Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited the State from inflicting the death penalty where the claimant was insane.

The Court felt that use of the death penalty in this circumstance did not enhance deterrence. It also had questionable retributive value and it offended humanity. Justice Marshall argued that any procedure that precluded the defendant from presenting material relevant to his sanity was inadequate.

The failure of the Court to even consider the matter of Montgomery’s competence is both horrifying and merciless. With so much questioning about the death penalty, the Court’s current majority is both backward and behind evolving standards of human decency.

The allegedly pro-life justices had no seeming difficulty imposing the death penalty on an utterly broken woman. I am reminded of the George Carlin routine about pro-lifers: they only care about life before you are born. After you are born, you are on your own.

Trump’s failure to consider clemency for Montgomery fits with his law and order posturing. His concern is his tough guy image. With few exceptions, he pardons white collar criminals, not anyone from a poverty background. The poet Kenneth Patchen once wrote, “Law and order embrace on hate’s border.” That fits Trump’s compassion-free notion of law and order.

Only six countries executed more people than America last year: China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Somalia and North Korea. There is a relationship between capital punishment and authoritarian regimes. With less respect for human rights, such regimes kill more. Trump’s execution spree reflects his authoritarianism. When it comes to the death penalty, look at the company you keep.

After Lisa Montgomery was executed, her lawyer Kelley Henry said,

“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight…This failed government adds itself to a long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa. We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power.”

That is an accurate summary. On matters of life and death, you might have expected careful consideration, not mindless vengeance. Everyone associated with Montgomery’s execution should be ashamed.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Tom Chase, Northwood, NH
    January 24, 2021 at 4:58 pm

    This is not a comment on this column, but on your 12/27/18 column on Bag Man = Agnew.

    I grew up in Baltimore, but in 1973, I was teaching social psychology at Colgate and far-removed from the news in Washington and Baltimore. Although I was following the impeachment hearings closely, there was no news that I saw of the Agnew affair until his resignation.

    But as a constant Maddow watcher, when the book came out, I decided to fill in that gap – and have just finished it.

    Your column is a worthy summary – if only based on the podcast (which I have not listened to).

    Let me add one additional tid-bit.

    Tim Baker went to my high school – Gilman School – a private school for boys. (It was then and still is – although now it admits non-White students!)

    His given name was Russell Tremaine Baker, Jr. – named for his father, a successful real estate developer.

    You may have learned all this with a Google search. But what I didn’t find there was his nickname while at Gilman.

    He had a favorite mid-morning/recess snack, resulting in the full appellation: Russell Tremaine “Chocolate Bigtown” Baker.

    🙂

    • January 24, 2021 at 10:52 pm

      Thanks Tom. I was really impressed by Maddow’s podcast Bag Man. It was really well done and I learned a lot from it. I have not bought the book but I have thought about buying it too just because I enjoyed the podcast that much. I wondered if there was new stuff in the book. I am old enough to remember the last days of Nixon and the story of Agnew was really not told then. I guess Agnew had other bad stuff after he stooped being VP. I know he was an anti-semite. AS someone who was a student radical back in the day, I remember Agnew and Nixon well. I went to college at Trinity in Hartford and one of my first college demonstrations was an SDS demonstration at the Hartford Armory against Nixon. Anyway, thanks for the info on Tim Baker. Great nickname. I always enjoy your submissions to the Monitor! Jon

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