The order blocks two further planned executions which the Trump administration heralds as a return to law and order.
A US judge ordered the Justice Department to delay the executions of two condemned murderers until at least March 16 to allow them to recover from COVID-19, hours after a federal judge in Indiana blocked Tuesday’s scheduled execution of the only woman on federal death row in the United States, citing mental health.
The two inmates, 52-year-old Corey Johnson was scheduled to be put to death on January 14, and Dustin Higgs, 48, was set to face execution January 15. Their lawyers argued execution
Convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery was set to be executed on Tuesday at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, but an order from an Indiana court requiring a mental health competency hearing temporarily blocks the federal Bureau of Prisons from moving forward with her execution.
The delays impact all three executions the US Department of Justice had scheduled for the final full week of Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.
The Justice Department has appealed the Indiana ruling, which came down late on Monday evening, to the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
It is expected to challenge the ruling delaying the executions of Johnson and Higgs.
Separately, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also voted on Monday to stay the execution to hold hearings on whether the Justice Department gave insufficient notice of Montogomery’s execution date.
The court issued the stay pending appeal of the district court's denial of #LisaMontgomery's claim that federal authorities had violated the Federal Death Penalty Act's requirement that it follow the execution procedures "of the State in which the sentence [was] imposed.” https://t.co/tWQSFb5J0W pic.twitter.com/P7dtVse3ZH
— Robert Dunham (@RDunhamDPIC) January 12, 2021
That ruling also pushes any new execution date into President-elect Joe Biden’s administration unless the Justice Department can get the Supreme Court to intervene.
Biden takes office on January 20 and says he will seek to abolish the federal death penalty.
Federal executions had been on pause for 17 years and only three men had been executed by the federal government since 1963 until the practice was resumed last year under Trump. His administration executed 10 people last year.
Montgomery, 52, had been scheduled to be killed by lethal injection at 23:00 GMT on Tuesday.
She was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight months pregnant. Montgomery then cut Stinnett’s fetus from the womb. The child survived.
In the Indiana ruling, District Judge James Patrick Hanlon granted a stay to allow the court to conduct a so-called competency hearing.
The US Supreme Court holds that executing an insane prisoner breaches a constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual” punishments.
Doctors who have examined her and her lawyers told the court in Indiana that Montgomery has brain impairments and bipolar disorder, among other mental illnesses.
She has auditory hallucinations, has expressed uncertainty about whether the child of the woman she killed was really her own, and has said that God speaks with her through connect-the-dot puzzles, according to court filings.
Justice Department lawyers countered with transcripts of Montgomery’s prison phone calls they said showed she understood her execution date was drawing near.
“While this evidence 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,'” Judge Hanlon wrote in his ruling.
Montgomery’s lawyers asked for Trump’s clemency last week, saying she committed her crime after a childhood in which she was abused and repeatedly raped by her stepfather and his friends, and so should instead face life in prison.