By Victoria Lembesis
WASHINGTON D.C. – Assistant Federal Public Defenders Kelly Henry and Amy Harwell, attorneys for Lisa Montgomery – facing the federal death penalty in less than a month – have revealed Thursday in a pleading that as a result of traveling to visit her, they have contracted COVID-19.
They note that they are experiencing debilitating symptoms and in the filing, are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Defense counsel are requesting 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.
Montgomery is a severely traumatized and mentally ill person facing execution on December 8, 2020. If her execution goes forward she will be the first woman executed by the federal government in about 70 years.
According to the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, she is currently 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, e killing Bobbie Jo Stinnet and cutting her baby out of her womb.
According to Montgomery’s lawyers, they are filing the lawsuit in order to “preserve Mrs. Montgomery’s rights to access a clemency proceeding under conditions that allow her untrammeled access to counsel and expert assistance.”
In the lawsuit they explain that the Trump Administration rejected the request for a reprieve due to their illness and the attorneys are asking the court to prevent Mrs. Montgomery from being executed until they are well enough to prepare and submit her clemency application.
Montgomery is noted to be suffering from several mental disorders causing her to lose touch with reality. She is a survivor of sexual violence, human trafficking and extreme trauma. Attorneys Henry and Harwell have spent many years building a trusting relationship with Montgomery and closely monitor her fragile health, the wrote.
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 (U.S. Attorney General) Defendant (Bill) 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.”
The Department of Justice announced Montgomery’s execution date on Oct. 16 with no notice to her attorneys. 30 days after the execution date was set, Mrs. Montgomery’s lawyers were advised that her clemency application was due on Nov. 15.
The lawsuit goes on to explain that the current COVID-19 pandemic is making it impossible for her attorneys to complete her clemency application.
The lawsuit explains that, “clemency is intended to serve as a ‘fail-safe’ protection against miscarriages of justice,” 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.”
Attorneys Harwell and Henry visited Montgomery on Oct. 19, 26 and Nov. 2. They state that her mental health quickly deteriorated after learning of her execution date.
She had been placed in a suicide cell and her underwear had been taken away. Mrs. Montgomery is a victim of repeated rape, incest, and child sex trafficking. So the loss of her underwear was especially traumatic.
The attorneys’ visits to Mrs. Montgomery involved them using air travel from Nashville to Fort Worth, rental cars, hotels, interaction with prison staff, travelers, and employees.
Both attorneys began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 around Nov. 5 and have tested positive for the virus.
They are both experiencing debilitating symptoms, including overwhelming fatigue, headaches, chills, sweats, gastro-intestinal distress, inability to focus, and impaired thinking and judgment. Both have been ordered by their doctors to strictly quarantine.
No other attorney has the same level of familiarity with this case to take over the clemency work at this late stage, they maintain. And, 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.”
On November 11, letters in support of Montgomery’s clemency requests were submitted to President Trump. These letters were signed by more than 1,000 supporters including current and former prosecutors, leading mental health organizations, and advocates working to stop human trafficking and sexual abuse. http://www.savelisa.org/
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