A federal appeals court has cleared the way for the only woman on federal death row to be executed before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The ruling, handed down Friday by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, concluded that a lower-court judge erred when he canceled Lisa Montgomery's execution date in an order last week.
U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss had ruled the Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled Montgomery's execution and he canceled an order from the director of the Bureau of Prisons scheduling her death for January 12.
Montgomery had been scheduled to be put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, in December, but Moss delayed the execution after her attorneys contracted coronavirus visiting their client and asked him to extend the time to file a clemency petition.
Moss concluded that under his order the Bureau of Prisons could not reschedule Montgomery's execution until at least January 1. But the appeals panel disagreed.
Meaghan VerGow, an attorney for Montgomery, said her legal team would ask for the full appeals court to review the case and said Montgomery should not be executed on January 12.
Montgomery was convicted of killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife, authorities said. Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, prosecutors said.
Montgomery's lawyers have argued that their client suffers from serious mental illnesses.
Biden opposes the death penalty, and his spokesman, TJ Ducklo, has said he would work to end its use. But Biden has not said whether he will halt federal executions after he takes office January 20.