Even in a year with a record number of federal executions, Lisa Montgomery’s case stands out. Montgomery, 52, is scheduled on Dec. 8 to be the first woman in nearly 70 years to receive the federal death penalty. Her punishment is being carried out on an unusually fast timeline. The announcement of her execution date came on Oct. 16. Justice Department guidelines typically give prisoners 120 days’ notice of an execution date; Montgomery got 54. “The way the Justice Department decides who to set for execution is so opaque,” said her lawyer, Kelley Henry, noting that Montgomery is among the newest federal prisoners to be put forth for execution. “I don’t know why there is a rush for this woman at this time when there’s no possible way for her to get a fair clemency hearing.”
Montgomery’s case reflects President Donald Trump’s aggressive pursuit of capital punishment even as support for the death penalty continues to erode. Under Trump, the government has carried out the highest number of federal executions ever in a single year. A wide gulf between Trump and Joe Biden’s views on the death penalty indicates just how much things are expected to change under Biden. The Trump administration resumed executions after a 17-year hiatus and has executed seven prisoners in 2020, with three more scheduled by year’s end. In 1989, Trump took out full-page ads calling for the return of the death penalty after the arrest of the Central Park Five, and decades later refused to apologize after they were exonerated. He has praised dictators such as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for executing drug dealers and proposed the death penalty for people who sell opioids. Biden made eliminating the death penalty part of his criminal justice platform, a move that breaks from his past support for the death penalty.