On January 12, 2021, the federal government plans to execute Lisa Montgomery, a woman with severe mental illness who suffered relentless physical, emotional, and sexual abuse including being trafficked by her own mother. Already, more than 1000 current and former prosecutors, anti-violence advocates, anti-trafficking organizations, advocates for abused and neglected children, and mental health advocates are asking the President to stop Lisa’s execution. Please join our fight.
- Sign the MoveOn.org petition
- Share Lisa’s story with your networks
- Share a powerful song about Lisa by Veronica Cinibulk
- Share our tweets @DeathPenaltyWW
- Repost our images and stories on Instagram (@HerWholeTruth)
- Tweets and images you can use to #SaveLisa
Lisa Montgomery’s life has been marked by relentless trauma and terror, exacerbating her genetic predisposition to severe mental illness. Lisa committed her crime while in the grip of a psychotic episode and even today, she must take a complex cocktail of medications to stave off recurrent psychosis.
She is the only woman under a federal death sentence and the only woman on death row in the entire country for the type of crime that she committed. Although Lisa was only recently denied an appeal, the government has already set a date for her execution on January 12, 2021. Lisa’s case has been marked by gender discrimination, ineffective lawyering, and other serious errors.
Lisa is a survivor of child abuse, domestic violence, incest, multiple rapes, and child sex trafficking. Lisa’s mother sexually trafficked her starting when she was a small child, including allowing her to be gang raped by adult men on multiple occasions and telling Lisa she had to “earn her keep.” Her years of torture at the hands of caregivers, documented brain damage, and severe mental illness have severed her connection with reality; without antipsychotic medication, she would lose the ability to understand what is happening to her and to know what is real.
A Childhood of Horrific Abuse and Mental Illness
Lisa was arrested on December 17, 2004 and sentenced to death on October 22, 2007 for the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. Lisa’s crime, itself, is a product of her mental illness and abuse: she killed Ms. Stinnett, who was pregnant, in order to claim the baby as her own. To understand Lisa’s crime—for which she has taken full responsibility—it is necessary to tell the story of Lisa’s life leading up to the offense.
Lisa was born into a family ravaged by poverty, violence, addiction, and mental illness. Her mother Judy drank throughout her pregnancy with Lisa, causing Lisa to be born with organic brain damage. Lisa’s father (who is also severely mentally ill) abandoned the family when Lisa was a small child, leaving her and her two sisters with Judy. Judy was violent and neglectful. She beat her children, including Lisa. She punished them by putting them in cold showers or by whipping them with belts, cords or hangers. She taped Lisa’s mouth shut with duct tape when she didn’t want to hear Lisa speaking. Lisa recounts how she learned not to cry when the duct tape was on her mouth, because her nose would become stuffed up and she couldn’t breathe. On one occasion Judy killed the family dog in front of Lisa and her siblings to punish them, brutally smashing its head with a shovel until it died.
Judy ultimately married six times, and had multiple partners throughout Lisa’s childhood. Lisa’s beloved sister Diane, who was only four years older than Lisa, sought to protect Lisa from Judy’s cruelty despite her own struggle to survive in the household. When Diane was a small child, Judy would force her to strip naked and lock her out of the house. When Diane was around eight years old, one of Judy’s male friends began regularly raping her, entering her room at night while she lay next to four-year-old Lisa in beds close enough that the girls could reach and touch each others’ hands.
Social services finally removed Diane from the home, but left Lisa behind. As they drove her away, Diane was overcome with fear over the fate of her younger sisters, vomiting over and over in the car. She did not see her sister Lisa again until she testified at trial.
When her mother married Jack Kleiner, Lisa’s life became a living hell. Jack was a mean drunk. According to one of his children, “[w]hen Jack came into a room, the atmosphere changed.” He punched, kicked, and choked his children, including Lisa. His beatings of Lisa had sexual overtones from the beginning: he made her remove her clothes before he spanked her. He began to fondle her around the time Lisa was eleven years old. He raped her regularly for years after that, coming into her room at night. He threatened to rape her little sister if she resisted, and told her he would kill her entire family if she told anyone. Lisa’s mother described one of the rapes when she testified in her divorce proceedings, “He was in her. He was pumping her.” But in private, Judy blamed Lisa for Jack’s sexual abuse. She was also prostituting Lisa to her male friends.
During these years, the family moved repeatedly. In the first fourteen years of her life, Lisa moved seventeen times. Jack eventually moved the family to an isolated, run-down trailer at the end of a dead end road. There was no running water. Jack built Lisa a small room onto the side of the trailer, making it easy for him to rape her out of earshot of others. She began to drink the wine stored in the room as a means to cope. She lived with constant terror and constant anticipation of rape.
When Lisa was around fifteen years old, Judy started to invite men to the house to have sex with Lisa in exchange for money and services. These men raped her orally, vaginally, and anally, “one after the other.” Her mother told her she had to “pay” for her room and the new indoor plumbing by submitting to the sexual torture of gang rape.
No One Intervened to Stop the Abuse
Her friends and teachers noticed Lisa’s poverty and observed signs that she was experiencing problems at home. One friend recounted, “I could tell she didn’t have money, because she wore old hand-me-down clothes that had holes in them and were too big. She wasn’t always clean. I could tell she couldn’t always wash her clothes. . . . It was easy to tell Lisa was poor even in our crowd who were all poor.” After the rapes began, her friends and family members reported that Lisa began to “space out” frequently. Lisa’s grades declined, and she was eventually placed in special needs classes. School administrators suspected abuse at Lisa’s home, but failed to take steps to investigate further or report it to the police.
During Judy’s divorce from Jack, Lisa testified about his rapes. The judge presiding over the case scolded Judy for failing to report the abuse to authorities—but failed to report the incident to the police, even though the statute of limitations had not run. Lisa was returned home with Judy, who escalated her abuse. She cut Lisa’s hair, saying that “only good girls have long hair.”
Lisa told her cousin, police officer David Kidwell, about the gang rapes that her mother instigated, crying and shaking while she described the abuse:
Kidwell did nothing in response. He now says, “I live with regret for not speaking up about what happened to Lisa. I wonder if I had if all of this could have been prevented.”
Mental Illness Takes Over
Lisa has had brain damage since she was an infant. She now has multiple mental disorders, including bipolar disorder and temporal lobe epilepsy. The sexual torture caused Lisa to dissociate from reality. She developed a dissociative disorder and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“C-PTSD), a chronic mental illness that is common in those exposed to overwhelming threats to their physical safety. Dr. Katherine Porterfield, a renowned expert on torture and trauma, has testified that the impact of Lisa’s sexual abuse was “massive,” and that her disorder was one of the most severe cases of dissociation I’ve ever seen.” According to Dr. Porterfield, Lisa ” has a very . . . troubled relationship to her own body. She literally does not perceive her body accurately in some cases and has trouble remembering, for instance, states of her body with accuracy.”
Lisa’s trauma was so severe that it compromised her neurological functioning and development. As a result, Lisa has trouble processing information and navigating social relationships. She struggles to maintain her own hygiene, loses focus during conversations with others, and has trouble planning simple tasks.
At her mother’s instigation, Lisa became engaged to her stepbrother at age seventeen, and they married when she was eighteen. He continued the cycle of abuse, raping and beating her. Perversely, he captured his torture of Lisa –and her cries of pain–on video. After discovering the video, Lisa’s brother said it was “out of a horror movie.”
Lisa gave birth to four children. After her fourth child was born, her mother pressured her into an involuntary sterilization. Over the years, her mental health continued to deteriorate, and her behavior became increasingly erratic. She lived in dire poverty. A social services report documented the family’s terrible living conditions, citing missing walls, floors, no running water or plumbing, no furniture or beds, loose wires, and children sleeping on the floor. By the time Lisa was thirty-four she had moved sixty-one times, mimicking the instability she grew up with. She divorced and married again.
Two days before the crime, her abusive former husband (and stepbrother) filed for custody of two of her children. At the time, she had told her new husband she was pregnant—which her former husband knew was untrue because she had been sterilized against her will. He threatened to expose her, and said he would use the imagined pregnancy in court to obtain custody of her children. The threat of losing her children combined with years of trauma and severe mental illness pushed Lisa past the brink. She went to the home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was twenty-three and eight months pregnant. Lisa killed her, cut the baby girl from her mother’s abdomen, took the baby home, and cared for her as though she was her own.
The crime that Lisa committed, though rare, is not unprecedented. More than a dozen women have committed similar crimes around the country, and none, besides Lisa, are condemned to die. The crime itself is a reflection of mental illness. But the Bush Justice Department, under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, decided that life imprisonment was not a sufficient punishment for her crime.
At Trial, Prosecutors Denegrate Evidence of Lisa’s Victimization
The brutal exploitation she had endured since she was a child made it hard for Lisa to trust anyone, particularly men. Her predominantly male defense team, controlled by Dave Owen, was ill-equipped to address her complex trauma. Owen had never defended a capital case. To ensure Lisa received competent legal representation , experts recommended the appointment of Judy Clarke, one of the most talented defense attorneys in the country, with particular expertise working with clients who are victims of abuse and trauma. Ms. Clarke’s appointment to the case was a sea change. For the first time, Lisa felt like she could build a trusting relationship with counsel. Lisa felt that Ms. Clarke “truly cared” about her well-being and best interests.
Owen, however, was unhappy with Clarke’s involvement in Lisa’s defense. According to female lawyers working in the same office with Owen, he “[chafed] at Ms. Clarke’s leadership role on the team” and was not “particularly good at working with women,” especially “[women] on equal footing.” The chief investigator on Lisa’s case, who was also male, repeatedly made clear that he was “not going to take any orders from any damn woman.”
Without informing Ms. Clarke, Owen and his boss asked the male federal judge to remove her from the case. The lawyers told the judge that “friction” had developed between them and Ms. Clarke. They said that Ms. Clarke was “abusive,” “non-productive,” and “obstructive.” Without hearing from Ms. Clarke, the federal judge removed her from the case. The judge ordered that all contact with Ms. Clarke be cut off, and on April 20, 2006, when Ms. Clarke attempted to visit Lisa in jail, she was refused entry. Lisa did not see Ms. Clarke again until after Lisa was sent to federal death row.
When Lisa learned that Ms. Clarke’s appointment had been terminated without her approval, her mental and emotional health deteriorated. Holly Jackson, the mitigation expert who met with Lisa after Ms. Clarke’s removal, reported that Lisa was inconsolable. She had trouble sleeping and getting out of bed, sobbed profusely, and could not eat. She was suicidal.
With the removal of Ms. Clarke, the outcome of Lisa’s trial was preordained. The defense failed to present critical evidence of Lisa’s sexual exploitation and torture, and failed to explain to the jury why it mattered. Instead of presenting expert testimony on the trauma disorder brought about by repeated rape, child sexual trafficking, and torture by her caregivers, one of her male defense attorneys read a poem about rape during his closing argument. Prosecutors ridiculed the evidence of Lisa’s rapes, referring to it dismissively as the “abuse excuse.” They faulted Lisa’s mothering skills, telling the jury that she didn’t go to her children’s events, and that “[s]he didn’t cook, and [s]he didn’t clean.” They told the jury that she lived in a “filthy home.” After five hours of deliberation, the jury recommended that she be sentenced to death.
Since Lisa has been on death row, prison psychiatrists have controlled the worst symptoms of her mental illness with a variety of psychotropic medications. In prison, she has received treatment for her mental illness that she never received in her life before her arrest. Despite the medication, Lisa still panics—and often breaks out in hives— if she is in a room alone with a man.
Since her conviction in 2007, Lisa has maintained connection with her children. She is now a grandmother. She has accepted responsibility for her crime and has expressed deep remorse.
Lisa Montgomery committed a crime that she can never take back, and her actions had tragic consequences for Ms. Stinnett and her family. But the tragedy caused by her actions will not be remedied by her execution, which will only perpetuate the cycle of trauma.
ATTORNEY STATEMENT: DESPITE LISA MONTGOMERY’S SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESS AND LIFETIME OF TRAUMA, FED. GOVERNMENT RESCHEDULES HER EXECUTION
(November 23, 2020) After a federal court ordered a temporary delay to allow her attorneys to recover from COVID-19, the federal government has rescheduled for January 12, 2021 the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a person with severe mental illness and a history of horrific trauma who is the only woman under a federal death sentence.
Mrs. Montgomery’s mental health has been deteriorating since the government first set her execution date. She is being held under extremely harsh conditions, dressed in a “suicide smock,” given only a crayon to write with, and threatened with the loss of her underwear if she exhibits any distress. Even as her attorneys are still recovering from severe COVID-19, they are trying to monitor her fragile mental state and prepare a clemency petition that provides a full picture of how her lifetime of suffering physical, emotional, and sexual abuse – including being trafficked by her own mother and repeatedly gang raped – resulted in the dissociative disorder that led to her commission of the crime.
Below is a statement from Sandra Babcock, one of Mrs. Montgomery’s attorneys:
“Lisa Montgomery is a person with severe mental illness, and numerous experts have concluded that her crime was the product of a psychotic episode. It is difficult to grasp the extremity of the horrors Lisa suffered from her earliest childhood, including being raped by her stepfather, handed off to his friends for their use, sold to groups of adult men by her own mother and repeatedly gang raped, and relentlessly beaten and neglected. No one intervened to help Lisa, though many knew what was happening to her.
“In the grip of a psychotic break, Lisa killed a pregnant woman and took the baby. This was a terrible crime, but Lisa took full responsibility and offered to plead guilty and accept life imprisonment with no possibility of release. Yet the federal government insisted on seeking the death penalty, and prosecutors brushed off what little her lawyers told the jury about her history as an “abuse excuse. Now, despite Lisa’s deteriorating mental health and a much deeper understanding of the trauma she endured, the government plans to kill her. No other woman has been executed for a similar crime, because most prosecutors have recognized that it is inevitably the product of trauma and mental illness.
“Executing Lisa Montgomery would be yet another injustice inflicted on a woman who has known a lifetime of mistreatment.”
Sandra L. Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law, Cornell Law School
November 23, 2020
BREAKING: U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss has enjoined the federal government from executing Lisa Montgomery, a severely traumatized and mentally ill person who is the only woman on federal death row, until her lawyers recover from COVID-19 and can prepare her clemency application.
The injunction was entered in a lawsuit filed on Mrs. Montgomery’s behalf by Cornell Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, arguing that Mrs. Montgomery’s longtime lawyers could not complete her clemency application by the November 15 deadline because they contracted COVID-19 while traveling to visit her and are suffering debilitating symptoms. The lawsuit also explained that the pandemic affects more than counsel, because the experts familiar with Mrs. Montgomery’s mental health history cannot travel to assess her current condition and thus cannot assist in the clemency process. Judge Moss’s order blocks the government from executing Mrs. Montgomery until December 31, 2020.
Below is a statement from Sandra L. Babcock, one of the lawyers representing Mrs. Montgomery in this action:
“The district court’s ruling gives Lisa Montgomery a meaningful opportunity to prepare and present a clemency application after her attorneys recover from COVID. 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 will now have the opportunity to present this evidence to the President with a request that he commute her sentence to life imprisonment.”
– Sandra L. Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law, Cornell Law School
– November 19, 2020
Judge Moss’ Memorandum opinion granting a stay can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/y29t28mg
Stay order is here: https://tinyurl.com/y2gdn2wx
For more information, please contact: Laura.Burstein@squirepb.com, (202) 669-3411, @LauraBurstein1.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Burstein, Laura.Burstein@squirepb.com, (202) 669-3411, @LauraBurstein1
BREAKING: AS LISA MONTGOMERY’S EXECUTION LOOMS, HER LAWYERS HAVE CONTRACTED COVID-19
NEW LAWSUIT SEEKS RESTRAINING ORDER TO ENSURE THEY CAN PREPARE CLEMENCY APPLICATION FOR THEIR SEVERELY MENTALLY ILL CLIENT
(Thursday, November 12, 2020) In a lawsuit filed today, attorneys for Lisa Montgomery, a severely traumatized and mentally ill person facing execution on December 8 [11/23/2020 UPDATE: Lisa’s execution has been rescheduled to January 12, 2021.], reveal that as a result of traveling to visit their client they have contracted COVID-19 and are experiencing debilitating symptoms.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Cornell Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to “preserve Mrs. Montgomery’s rights to access a clemency proceeding under conditions that allow her untrammeled access to counsel and expert assistance” (p.3 from Memo in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and PI, which is pasted at bottom).
The lawsuit explains that the Trump Administration has rejected the attorneys’ request for a reprieve due to their illness and asks the court to prevent Mrs. Montgomery from being executed until they can effectively prepare and submit her clemency application. As the lawsuit states:
“Mrs. Montgomery’s lawyers cannot represent her because they are seriously ill, through no fault of their own. On the contrary, they are sick because Defendant Barr recklessly scheduled Mrs. Montgomery’s execution in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. But for Barr’s action, counsel would not have been stricken with the disease that is ravaging the country. But the pandemic affects more than counsel. Because of COVID-19, the experts familiar with her case cannot assess her mental state and therefore cannot participate in the clemency process” (p.7).
Mrs. Montgomery suffers from several mental disorders that frequently cause her to lose touch with reality. She is also a survivor of extreme trauma, including multiple gang rapes. Her longtime post-conviction attorneys, Assistant Federal Public Defenders Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell, have spent many years building a trusting attorney-client relationship with Mrs. Montgomery and closely monitoring her fragile mental health.
As the lawsuit describes, the Department of Justice announced Mrs. Montgomery’s execution date on October 16 with no notice to her attorneys. At that time, the COVID-19 pandemic was raging, and infection rates have now reached an all-time high.
Mrs. Montgomery’s lawyers were advised that her clemency application was due on November 15, just 30 days after the execution date was set.
But, as the lawsuit explains, the COVID-19 pandemic is making it impossible for Mrs. Montgomery’s lawyers to complete her clemency application by November 15. Mrs. Montgomery’s mental illness is a critically important issue relevant to a request that President Trump commute her sentence to life without parole, yet the mental health experts who are familiar with her history cannot travel to evaluate her current mental health status due to the pandemic.
Attorneys Harwell and/or Henry visited Mrs. Montgomery on October 19 and 26 and November 2. They discovered that her mental health quickly deteriorated after she learned of her execution date. She was distraught about the conditions of her confinement: she had been placed in a suicide cell and her underwear had been taken away. As a victim of repeated rape, incest, and child sex trafficking, the loss of her underwear was especially traumatic. Henry and Harwell spent hours trying to calm her, explain the status of her case, and ascertain her current mental status.
These visits involved air travel from Nashville, Tennessee to Fort Worth, Texas as well as the use of rental cars and hotels, and interaction with prison staff in addition to the many travelers and employees they encountered along the way. Harwell began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms on November 5, and Henry lost her sense of smell the next day. Both have since tested positive for the virus and are experiencing debilitating symptoms, including overwhelming fatigue, headaches, chills, sweats, gastro-intestinal distress, inability to focus, and impaired thinking and judgment. They have been ordered by their doctors to strictly quarantine (p.2-3).
With just days left to complete Mrs. Montgomery’s clemency application and her mental state rapidly deteriorating, neither attorney can visit her. Nor can they complete the necessary work given their exhaustion and compromised thinking. No other attorney has the level of familiarity with this complex case to take over the clemency work at this late stage. Thus, unless the court issues a restraining order, “Mrs. Montgomery will suffer irreparable injury. for she will be deprived of any meaningful opportunity for review of her clemency request” (p.8-9).
Clemency is intended to serve as a ‘fail-safe’ protection against miscarriages of justice,” the lawsuit explains, and the public interest is served by ensuring “that before the Government carries out an execution, it has afforded the prisoner a fair opportunity to demonstrate that she is deserving of mercy” (p.8).A restraining order is essential to allow Mrs. Montgomery’s legal team adequate time to recover from COVID-19 and to complete her clemency request.
On November 11, letters in support of Mrs. Montgomery’s anticipated clemency request were submitted to President Trump, signed by over 1000 supporters including current and former prosecutors, leading mental health organizations, and advocates working to stop human trafficking, end violence against women and children, and protect abused and neglected children.
Memo in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction: https://tinyurl.com/y6slc3d5
Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction: https://tinyurl.com/yxnkz4pu
Clemency Complaint: https://tinyurl.com/y4adjzvp
Press Release of Over 1,000 Advocates Calling on President Trump to Commute Death Sentence of Lisa Montgomery: https://tinyurl.com/y6kethld
For more information, contact Laura Burstein, Laura.Burstein@squirepb.com, (202) 669-3411, @LauraBurstein1.
Contact: Laura.Burstein@squirepb.com, (202) 669-3411, @LauraBurstein1
“Lisa’s Song” is here: https://youtu.be/okWfnh3pDcA
OVER ONE THOUSAND SUPPORTERS CALL ON PRESIDENT TRUMP TO COMMUTE DEATH SENTENCE OF LISA MONTGOMERY, MENTALLY ILL VICTIM OF TRAFFICKING AND HORRIFIC ABUSE SCHEDULED FOR DEC. 8 FED. EXECUTION
[11/23/2020 UPDATE: Lisa’s execution has been rescheduled to January 12, 2021.]
Current and former prosecutors, anti-violence advocates, anti-trafficking organizations, advocates for abused and neglected children, and mental health advocates all say executing Lisa Montgomery would be unconscionable
In letters delivered today, a broad coalition of current and former prosecutors, anti-sex trafficking and anti-domestic violence groups, child advocates and mental health groups is urging President Trump to stop the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a woman with severe mental illness who suffered relentless physical, emotional, and sexual abuse including being trafficked by her own mother. The federal government plans to execute Mrs. Montgomery on December 8 unless the President or a court intervenes.
“Lisa’s experiences as a victim of horrific sexual violence, physical abuse, and being trafficked as a child do not excuse her crime,” write a group of 41 current and former prosecutors. “But her history provides us with an important explanation that would influence any sentencing recommendation we made as prosecutors.”
The prosecutors stress that Lisa’s history “is not an ‘abuse excuse’ as the jury was told at her trial,” and that evidence of a defendant’s childhood trauma is “critically relevant to determining the appropriate punishment for a serious crime.”
Letter from 41 current and former prosecutors can be accessed here.
In a separate letter, two former prosecutors who prosecuted similar cases involving attacks on pregnant women agree: “These crimes are inevitably the product of serious mental illness. Women who commit such crimes also are likely to have been victimized themselves. These are important factors that make death sentences inappropriate.”
Letter from two former prosecutors who prosecuted similar cases involving attacks on pregnant women can be accessed here.
The prosecutors’ call for clemency is joined by hundreds of organizations that advocate for women, children, and people with mental illness.
A group of 800 organizations and individuals working to combat violence against women stress that Lisa was “consistently failed by people and systems that should have helped her,” and that she “became severely mentally ill by the time she committed her crime.” In 2004, in the grip of a psychotic break, Lisa killed a pregnant woman and took her baby.
Letter from 800 organizations and individuals working to combat violence against women can be accessed here.
They point to the sexual abuse Lisa suffered beginning as a child when her stepfather repeatedly raped her and allowed his friends to gang-rape her, followed by being trafficked by her mother to adult men for sex in her early teens. “Lisa developed a dissociative disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the repeated anal, oral, and vaginal rapes she suffered by the men to whom her mother trafficked her.” And although Lisa told people about her abuse, they “failed to investigate or report.”
A group of 100 organizations and individuals working to combat human trafficking similarly urge the President to take into account Lisa’s history of being trafficked by her own mother, and the impact of the abuses she suffered on her mental health, as “critical context that explains why she committed these acts, which might otherwise seem incomprehensible.”
Letter from 100 organizations and individuals working to combat human trafficking can be accessed here.
They also note that current law provides much stronger protections to victims of trafficking. “Had any of these laws been in effect when Lisa was a child or young adult suffering human trafficking, our legal systems would have offered more meaningful intervention.”
A group of 40 child advocates whose work is devoted to protecting abused, victimized, and abandoned children highlight the tragedy of how “no one stepped in to save Lisa. Lisa was repeatedly abused and exploited by the very adults she turned to for protection – first her own mother and stepfather, then her partners.”
Letter from 40 child advocates whose work is devoted to protecting abused, victimized, and abandoned children can be accessed here.
They point to the “many missed opportunities to intervene and stop Lisa’s suffering,” which might well have prevented the crime from ever happening. Lisa’s older sister also suffered horrific abuse in the home but was removed by social services; Lisa was left behind, and though people in power learned of the abuse they did nothing to stop it. “We know from our work with abused children that being unable to escape a cycle of abuse exacts a terrible mental toll,” these child advocates write. “This was sadly true for Lisa. Her crime reflects the desperation, shame, and hopelessness that many victims of extreme child abuse feel.”
Three of the nation’s leading advocacy organizations for people with serious mental illness and their families also call for clemency based on Lisa’s mental illness and neurological disorders. “We believe that Mrs. Montgomery, who acted in the grip of a psychotic episode, should not be subject to the death penalty due to her brain damage and severe mental illness.”
Letter from three of the nation’s leading advocacy organizations for people with serious mental illness and their families can be accessed here.
They describe the combined impact on Lisa’s functioning of organic brain damage resulting from her mother’s heavy alcohol use during pregnancy, a genetic predisposition to serious mental illness inherited from both parents, and the psychological effects of extreme and pervasive trauma. “Multiple experts have concluded that Mrs. Montgomery’s crime was the product of her mental illness and brain injuries,” they write. And “even today, her grip on reality is fragile, maintained only with a complex regimen of psychotropic medications that she never received before being incarcerated.”
These mental health advocates also recognize that “the stress of being given an execution date, removed from the institution where she has lived for many years, and transferred to a men’s prison for execution will trigger her psychosis and cause her mental health to deteriorate dramatically.”
Such concerns are, in fact, being borne out, and a new lawsuit argues that the conditions under which the Bureau of Prisons is housing Lisa in advance of her execution are aggravating her mental illness. For example, the BOP has her under 24-hour observation, allowing male guards to watch her use the toilet. The prison also took away her access to underwear, allowing her to have panties again only if she “behaved” by not crying or otherwise exhibiting distress. For a victim of multiple rapes like Lisa, these conditions are especially damaging.
A powerful new song and video about Lisa’s story are available here.
For more information, or to speak with co-signers to the letters or to one of Lisa’s attorneys, please contact: Laura.Burstein@squirepb.com, (202) 669-3411, @LauraBurstein1.
Statements of Support
If you are a member of the media and have an inquiry, please contact Laura Burstein at Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com.
Media & Publications
Rose Minutaglio, “My Baby Sister Did a Terrible Thing. We Shouldn’t Kill Her For It,” Elle Magazine, November 23, 2020.
Madeleine Carlisle, “How COVID-19 Is Impacting the First Scheduled Federal Execution of a Woman in Nearly 70 Years,” Time, November 20, 2020.
Jeff Mordock, “Federal judge hints he may delay execution over inmate’s lawyers’ COVID-19 infection,” The Washington Times, November 18, 2020.
Ann E. Marimow and Spencer S. Hsu, “Death row inmate’s lawyers suffering from coronavirus, seek delay in execution,” Washington Post, November 13, 2020.
Jeff Mordock, “Judge orders DOJ to explain why COVID-19 outbreak among lawyers shouldn’t delay woman’s execution,” Washington Times, November 13, 2020.
Debra Cassens Weiss, “ABA asks Trump for delays in 3 executions, including case in which the lawyers have COVID-19,” ABA Journal, November 13, 2020.
Ko Bragg, “Federal government to execute first woman since 1953,” 19th News, November 13, 2020.
Jordan Rubin, “Covid Hits Lawyers for Lone Woman on Federal Death Row,” Bloomberg Law, November 12, 2020.
Khaleda Raham, “Trump Urged by Over 1,000 Advocates to Stop Execution of Federal Death Row Inmate Lisa Montgomery,” Newsweek, November 11, 2020.
Melissa Jeltsen, “Trump Urged To Commute Death Sentence Of Mentally Ill Sex Trafficking Victim,” HuffPost, November 11, 2020.
Kim Bellware, “Trump’s record-breaking spree of federal executions could come to an end under Biden,” Washington Post, November 11, 2020.
David Greenwald, “Supporters Call on Trump to Commute Death Sentence of Lisa Montgomery,” The Davis Vanguard, November 11, 2020.
Rev Becca Stevens, “Stop the Execution of Childhood Abuse Victims,” Medium, November 9, 2020.
“The Tortured Life And Tragic Crime Of The Only Woman On Death Row,” HuffPost, November 10, 2020.
Marie Fazio, “U.S. Schedules First Execution of a Woman in Nearly 70 Years,” New York Times, October 17, 2020.
Melinda Henneberger, “How Could Bloodthirsty Execution of Kansan Lisa Montgomery Ever Amount to Justice?,” Kansas City Star, October 21, 2020.
Marc Thibodeau, “L’exécution imminente d’une détenue dénoncée,” La Presse, 22 octobre 2020.