No Picture
News Briefs

Members of Congress push for end to the federal death penalty

January 26, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- Dozens of members of Congress are urging the Attorney General-designate to stop use of the federal death penalty.

In a letter to Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland on Tuesday, 45 members of the House—led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Adriano Espillat (D-N.Y.)—asked Garland to work with Congress on legislation to end the federal death penalty, once he is confirmed.


In addition, they asked Garland to take specific steps to halt or end use of the death penalty nationwide, including by revoking the Trump administration’s 2019 resumption of federal executions.

“The death penalty is a stain on the United States’ commitment to advancing justice and human rights,” the letter signed by 45 members stated. “We ask that upon confirmation you partner with Congress to enact legislation to end the federal death penalty and resentence those currently on federal death row,” the members stated.


In 2019, Attorney General William Barr—a Catholic—announced a resumption of federal executions after a nearly two-decade moratorium.


Beginning in July, a total of 13 federal death row inmates were executed by the end of the Trump administration on Jan. 20. In December and January alone, five of the inmates were executed.


The U.S. bishops’ conference condemned the executions, and in a Jan. 11 statement asked Congress and the Biden administration to stop federal executions and abolish the federal death penalty.


In one of the cases, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark sent a letter to President Trump asking for clemency for Dustin Honken. Tobin noted that, while previously Archbishop of Indianapolis, he visited Honken at Terre Haute federal prison several times a year. Honken was executed in July.


The next chair of the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, called the death penalty part of the “throwaway culture” in a Jan. 8 online panel.


While campaigning for president, Biden promised to end the federal death penalty. As a senator, however, he sponsored a 1994 criminal justice bill that expanded the number of federal offenses eligible for the death penalty.


White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that President Biden was “opposed” to the federal death penalty, but offered no details on a possible stoppage of its use.


Among the members’ requests of Garland on Tuesday are that he “[w]ithdraw authorization for all pending death penalty trial cases” and stop seeking the death penalty in any federal cases.


In addition, the members are asking that “the federal Bureau of Prisons dismantle the federal death chamber at Terre Haute prison in Indiana.”


“As the Trump Administration has undertaken an appalling rush to execute a historic number of Americans this year, it is incumbent upon the Biden Administration to reverse course and work to make America a more just society,” the letter stated.


Rep. Espillat is a Dominican-American and Catholic. He introduced legislation, H.R. 97, on Jan. 4 to abolish the death penalty under federal law.


Pressley, meanwhile, introduced the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Jan. 11, to end federal use of the death penalty and provide for the re-sentencing of federal inmates currently on death row.


No Picture
News Briefs

Lawyer urges clemency for federal death row inmate

January 8, 2021 CNA Daily News 4

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 8, 2021 / 02:19 pm (CNA).- A woman convicted of murdering a woman and stealing her unborn child should be granted clemency ahead of her scheduled execution on Jan. 12, her lawyer told CNA.

Lisa Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2007 for the Dec. 16, 2004 murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant. Montgomery, who told Stinnett her name was “Darlene Fischer,” claimed to be pregnant as well, and the two communicated online prior to meeting at Stinnett’s home in Skidmore, Missouri.

Montgomery strangled Stinnett, and then cut her stomach to deliver the child, a girl, via a rudimentary cesarean section. The newborn baby girl was discovered, alive, one day later when Montgomery was arrested in Kansas. Montgomery reportedly told her husband that the baby was hers.

The federal government tried the case in part as it involved a kidnapping over state lines.

“We’ve asked President Trump to commute Mrs. Montgomery’s sentence from death to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole … for several reasons,” Kelley Henry, lead counsel on the case, said to CNA in a phone interview Jan. 6.

“First, she is a person who suffers from serious mental illness as well as brain damage, and a lifetime of physical and sexual torture at the hands of her caregivers, and the men that her mother trafficked her to, for years,” said Henry.

Henry noted that despite the documentation of numerous similar crimes in the United States, Montgomery is the only person to be sentenced to death on either the federal or state levels.

“The prosecution normally understands that people who commit this particular sort of crime are individuals with severe mental illness and trauma history,” Henry explained.

“Mrs. Montgomery’s trauma history is the most severe of any case I’ve ever seen in 30 years of practice.”

Unlike others on death row, Montgomery “has expressed deep and severe remorse from the moment of her arrest,” said Henry.

Henry told CNA that those who wish to see Montgomery’s sentence commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole to visit the website, sign the petition, and write “letters and emails” to the president and other leaders. 

“These executions are, after all, carried out in the names of the citizens of the United States, and they should make it be known to the president that they would support mercy in this case,” said Henry, “which would be life in prison without the possibility of parole.”