Federal death penalty case has local connection with Tenn. legal team

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Posted at 10:19 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 00:22:01-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — COVID-19 concerns have caused Tennessee to pause the planned executions of death row inmates. But that's not the case at the federal level -- where the only woman on the federal death row is getting help from a Tennessee defense team.

Lisa Montgomery, 52, would be the first woman executed under the federal death penalty in nearly 70 years. Her case grabbed national headlines.

Federal Executions
FILE - This undated file image provided by Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery shows Lisa Montgomery. A federal appeals court has lifted a judge’s order that had blocked the execution date for Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. Montgomery was convicted of fatally strangling a pregnant woman, cutting her body open and kidnapping her baby. The ruling was handed down Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. (Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery via AP)

Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in Missouri.

Stinnett was eight months pregnant, and Montgomery cut out Stinnett's baby from her womb while it was still alive, and Montgomery ran off with it.

Montgomery is getting legal help from attorneys based here in Tennessee. She is represented in part by Kelley Henry, a familiar face in local courts, representing many death row inmates here.

Henry argues that Montgomery should not be put to death because of brain damage and severe mental illness.

Late Monday night, a D.C. appeals court put a pause on Montgomery's execution over concerns of how quickly the execution was scheduled.

"I've been doing this work for 30 years, I've never had a client with an execution date just 12 years past conviction," Henry told affiliate WTHI-TV in Terre Haute, Ind., where Montgomery is set to be put to death. "In the world of death penalty litigation, that's like a rocket docket."

Henry says she's also concerned about a possible superspreader event inside the Federal execution chamber in Terre Haute, after eight members of the execution team got COVID after an earlier execution.