PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) – The federal government executed Lisa Montgomery, Kansas, on Wednesday, the first woman on death row to be killed since 1953.
Montgomery, 52, died of a lethal injection at 1:31 am in a federal prison complex in Indiana, after 13 years on death row. She was convicted in 2007 of fatally strangling a pregnant woman from Missouri, cutting her child from the womb and claiming the baby as her own.
“We know that a horrible crime has occurred and a life has been lost, but the atrocities suffered by Lisa Montgomery were unimaginable,” said Philadelphia-based defender Shea Rhodes, who believes her murder was a grave injustice.
Rhodes, founder and director of Villanova Law Institute to deal with commercial sexual exploitation, joined the #SaveLisa campaign. For months, she worked to commute her sentence to life in prison, arguing that Montgomery was a victim of child sex trafficking.
Rhodes explained that Montgomery was repeatedly raped and sold by her mother and stepparents.
“The complex trauma that we now know that survivors of sex trafficking experience and, hopefully, need to heal, is equivalent to that of combat veterans,” she noted.
Montgomery’s legal team said she suffered “sexual torture” for years, including gang rapes, as a child, permanently leaving her with an emotional scar and exacerbating her family’s mental health problems.
According to his lawyers, Montgomery suffered from depression, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. At about the time of the murder, they said she had a rare condition called pseudocyesis, in which a woman’s false belief that she was pregnant triggers hormonal and physical changes as if she were actually pregnant.
Montgomery also experienced delusions and hallucinations, believing that God spoke to her through puzzles to connect the dots, defense experts said.
At the trial, prosecutors accused her of faking mental illness, noting that the murder was premeditated.
Although Montgomery could not be saved, Rhodes hopes that by raising awareness, other victims of sex trafficking may be.
Montgomery was the 11th prisoner executed at the Indiana facility since July, when President Donald Trump resumed federal executions after 17 years without any.
His death came after hours of legal disputes before the Supreme Court opened the way for the execution to continue. Montgomery was the first of the last three federal prisoners scheduled to die before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden next week, who is expected to suspend federal executions.
The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Brown Heady in 1953, for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Missouri.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.