By Julietta Bisharyan
WASHINGTON –– The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued U.S. Attorney General William Barr and the wardens of Terre Haute Correctional Complex and Federal Medical Center at Carswell this week, asserting that the death row conditions at a Forth Worth prison are re-torturing Lisa Montgomery, who awaits execution in December.
The motion demands an end to the conditions, which bear a similarity to the decades of sexual terror Montgomery endured. The lawsuit also seeks to prevent the added trauma that will inevitably occur from her planned transfer to the all-male Terre Haute prison.
The ACLU contends that the conditions violate her Eighth Amendment rights, which protect her from cruel and unusual punishment, and that prison officials are discriminating against her based on her disability.
Montgomery, 52, is the only woman on federal death row and is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Dec. 8. In 2007, she was convicted of strangling 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in northwest Missouri, cutting her unborn baby from her womb and kidnapping the baby.
As a child, Montgomery would be strapped to her high chair, forced to take cold showers and beaten with belts, cords, hangers and hairbrushes as punishments. Her mother would also cover her mouth with duct tape to keep her silent, according to the suit.
After her older sister was regularly molested and raped, social services removed her from the home, but the agency failed to remove Montgomery from the home as well.
At the age of 11, her stepfather raped her for the first time. He eventually built a special room to isolate and continually rape her. When her mother found out, she threatened Montgomery by putting a gun to her head. At 15, her mother trafficked her to older men in exchange for utilities and other favors and services.
The lawsuit asserts that Montgomery would begin to disassociate mentally from reality to survive through the trauma.
During high school, Montgomery’s mother coerced her into marrying her boyfriend’s 24-year-old son, who continued to sexually torture and rape her. After she gave birth to her husband’s fourth child, he and her mother forced Montgomery to be sterilized, according to court documents.
Eventually the two divorced, and he fought for custody of their children. Montgomery’s killing of Stinnett occurred two days after he filed for custody.
“For someone who has suffered the kind of sexual terror and trauma that Lisa has, this treatment isn’t just cruel and unusual — it is torture,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project.
“Lisa is the first woman to be executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years, but the conditions she is held under are far harsher than any man on death row, or anyone on suicide watch. The depravity and cruelty of the treatment are seemingly the point. The Constitution does not give our government permission to torture people before putting them to death — these conditions must be alleviated immediately,” she added.
Montgomery takes several antipsychotic medications to manage her mental health, but still continues to show symptoms of her sexual trauma. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
The ACLU contends the conditions at FMC Carswell, the federal prison in Fort Worth where she is currently held, parallels the torture considering her history of sexual abuse and rape.
When her execution date was scheduled on Oct. 16, Montgomery was immediately deprived of all of her belongings, including books, legal papers and photographs of her children.
She was transferred to a cold cell with bright lights left on 24-hours a day, depriving her of sleep. Male guards watch her all day, including when she uses the toilet.
Her standard clothing, including bra, panties, and socks were taken away, leaving her only with a loose gown with Velcro straps that leaves Montgomery exposed if she squats or crouches. After 14 days without undergarments, she was given mesh underwear, which she had been requesting every day for two weeks, with the instruction, “be a good girl, now.”
The defendants in the ACLU’s lawsuit plan to transfer her to an all-male prison as her execution date looms.
“She was also placed under new conditions of confinement that are harsher than the conditions for men housed at USP Terre Haute under death watch,” the ACLU claims. “Defendants have not forced condemned men to experience anything like Mrs. Montgomery’s current confinement.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of advocates and groups have sent letters asking President Trump to stop her execution, including 41 current and former prosecutors, more than 800 people and organizations that combat violence against women, more than 100 people and organizations that fight human trafficking and 40 advocates who work to protect abused children.
The ACLU is requesting a ruling that Montgomery’s rights have been violated under the Eighth Amendment and that a preliminary and permanent injunction be issued preventing the defendants subjecting her to the conditions at Carswell and transferring her to any all-male prison.
Julietta Bisharyan is a fourth-year student at UC Davis, currently majoring in English and minoring in Art History and Professional Writing. She is from South San Francisco.
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