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UN experts call for clemency for Lisa Montgomery after US Government reschedules execution

03 December 2020

GENEVA (3 December 2020) – UN human rights experts* have called for clemency to be granted to Lisa Montgomery after the US rescheduled her execution for January 2021 amid concerns that she received inadequate legal assistance and her previous trauma and mental health were not adequately considered during the trial.

“Ms. Montgomery was the victim of an extreme level of physical and sexual abuse throughout her life against which the State never provided protection and for which it failed to offer remedies. She suffered from several mental health conditions which the State failed to care for. When it came to the capital proceedings, the State betrayed her yet again, neglecting to consider these essential and determining facts as mitigating circumstances,” the experts said. 

“International standards are clear – the death penalty is always arbitrary and unlawful when the court ignores or discounts essential facts that may have significantly influenced a capital defendant’s motivations, situation and conduct. Such facts include exposure to domestic violence and other abuse. A death sentence carried out in contravention of a Government’s international obligations amounts to an arbitrary execution,” the experts warned.

“We welcome the stay in execution granted on 19 November 2020 but deeply regret that the Government then chose to reschedule her execution for 12 January 2021. We call for Lisa Montgomery to be granted clemency once the application is filed.”

Ms. Montgomery was the victim of horrific abuse throughout her life. She was subjected to multiple rapes from age 11 and forced into prostitution at 15. She later married and was subjected to further abuse, some of which was captured on video. She had four children before being pressured to have a sterilisation. By the age of 34 she had moved 61 times. As a result of the traumas she experienced, she developed several severe mental health conditions for which she had no access to treatment.

In 2004, she killed a pregnant woman and cut the baby from her stomach, pretending it was her own. Shortly before the murder, Ms. Montgomery’s former partner had threatened to take custody of her children. Ms. Montgomery had told her new partner that she was pregnant, which was known to be untrue due to her previous sterilisation.

At her trial her attorney read a poem about rape rather than producing expert testimony on the decades of sexual and physical abuse she had endured, on her mental disorders and on how they linked to her trauma and crime. Prosecutors used discriminatory language and stereotypes in their closing arguments.

“The failure to consider Ms. Montgomery’s personal history and traumatic experiences is especially egregious, given that the authorities had reportedly missed several opportunities to intervene and end her abuse,” they added. During her childhood, a police officer, a judge and a school administrator were either informed of or suspected that she was being sexually abused, yet no action was taken to help Ms. Montgomery.

“Shamefully, Ms. Montgomery’s years of sexual abuse and State’s neglect were further compounded by the gender discrimination she faced, pervasive at all stages of the capital proceedings against her.”

Ms. Montgomery has accepted responsibility for her crime and expressed deep remorse. Since being imprisoned, she has maintained a connection with her children and is now a grandmother.

On 16 October 2020, it was announced that Ms. Montgomery’s execution was scheduled for 8 December 2020. Her lawyers contracted COVID-19 after travelling to visit her, impeding their ability to assist her in filing a clemency petition within the required time limit. The stay prevented Ms. Montgomery from being executed until 31 December 2020, giving her lawyers additional time to file an application for clemency. On 23 November, the Government rescheduled the execution for 12 January 2021.  

The experts also expressed concern at the resumption in July 2020 of federal executions. “We are seriously concerned that this goes against international trends towards the reduction and eventual abolition of the death penalty,” they added.
The experts have written to the Government to express their concerns.


*The experts: Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.; Elizabeth Broderick (Chair), Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, Meskerem Geset Techane, Ivana RadačIć, Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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