ACLU sues to end conditions it claims re-torture Kansas woman on federal death row

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In this handout photo provided by the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department, Lisa Montgomery appears in a booking photo released Dec. 20, 2004 in Kansas City, Kansas. - Wyandotte Co. Sheriff's Dept./Getty Images North America/TNS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The American Civil Liberties Union has sued U.S. Attorney General William Barr and others claiming the death row conditions at a Forth Worth, Texas, prison are re-torturing Lisa Montgomery, who awaits a December execution.

The ACLU contends in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month that the conditions violate her Eighth Amendment rights, which protects her from cruel and unusual punishments. The ACLU also contends that prison officials are discriminating against her based on her disability.

In addition to Barr, the lawsuit names as defendants the federal Bureau of Prisons, two officials with the Bureau of Prisons and the wardens of Terre Haute Correctional Complex in Indiana and Federal Medical Center at Carswell in Texas.

The 52-year-old Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Dec. 8.

Montgomery, from Melvern, Kansas, was convicted in 2007 of strangling 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in northwest Missouri and cutting her unborn baby from her womb and kidnapping the baby. The child was later found safe.

After contracting COVID-19 after visiting her, Montgomery’s attorneys are seeking a delay of her execution until they can prepare and submit her clemency application.

Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 1,000 supporters that include prosecutors, anti-sex-trafficking and anti-domestic-violence groups, child advocates and mental health groups have urged President Donald Trump to stop her execution.

Montgomery’s disabilities and brain damage began before she was born, the ACLU contends in court documents.

Her mother was an alcoholic who drank during pregnancy, which caused Montgomery to be born with permanent brain damage.

Her mother’s “parenting was an exercise in cruelty, neglect and ultimate torture,” the ACLU contends.

As a child, Montgomery was strapped to her high chair, forced to take cold showers as punishments and beaten with belts, cords, hangers and hairbrushes, according to the suit. Her mother would use duct tape to tape Montgomery’s mouth shut to keep her silent.

Social services removed her older sister from the home after she was regularly molested and raped, but the agency failed to remove Montgomery from the home.

Montgomery was also sexually abused and raped. Her attacker threatened to rape Montgomery’s little sister if she resisted and said that he would kill her entire family if she told anyone, according to the lawsuit. When Montgomery was 15, her mother began selling her for sex in exchange for utilities and other favors and services.

To survive the attacks, Montgomery would dissociate mentally, attempting to escape from reality. The lawsuit contends that this was the beginning of her mental illness.

Montgomery was in high school when her mother became involved with a new boyfriend who coerced Montgomery into marrying the boyfriend’s son, who was 24 at the time. He raped and brutalized her. After she gave birth to her husband’s fourth children in less than five years, he and her mother forced Montgomery to be sterilized, according to court documents.

Eventually they divorced and he was fighting for custody of their children. The killing of Stinnett occurred two days after he filed for custody of their children.

The ACLU contends the conditions at FMC Carswell, the federal prison in Fort Worth where she is currently held, amounts to torture considering her past history of sexual abuse and rape.

Montgomery’s death warrant was issued Oct. 16, setting her execution for Dec. 8. She was placed on death and suicide watch at the time.

“She was also placed under new conditions of confinement that are harsher than the conditions for men housed at USP Terre Haute under death watch,” the ACLU contends. “Defendants have not forced condemned men to experience anything like Mrs. Montgomery’s current confinement.”

Montgomery was forced to wear a tear-resistant “safety smock” and not permitted to have any undergarments from Oct. 16 to 30. The smock leaves Montgomery exposed if she squats or crouches. She could barely sleep without the undergarments because she felt exposed and vulnerable, the ACLU contends.

She knows she’s being monitored by surveillance video because a male guard commented to her one time after she had used the toilet, “So you had to go tinkle today, huh?”

After 14 days without undergarments, she was given mesh underwear, which she had been requesting every day for two weeks. Staff told her to “be a good girl, now.”

“As a survivor of repeated rapes, Mrs. Montgomery was reminded of the warning language often used by her mother as she forced young Lisa to have sex with strange men,” the ACLU contends.

The lawsuit includes other examples of alleged mistreatment, including cell lights being left on 24-hours a day depriving her of sleep and permitting her to take cold showers three times a week while she is constantly monitored by staff.

“The cold showers remind her of one of her abusive mother’s treatments: holding her roughly under cold water as punishment,” the ACLU said.

The conditions Montgomery is facing are not similar to the conditions faced by men under death watch at the Terra Haute prison, the ACLU contends.

The ACLU argues that the conditions have exacerbated her mental illness and the pending transfer to Terre Haute will inflict further harm.

The ACLU is asking for a ruling that Montgomery’s rights have been violated under the Eighth Amendment and that a preliminary and permanent injunction be issued preventing the defendants subjecting her to the conditions at Carswell and transferring her to Terre Haute or any other all-male prison.

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©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)