A US 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 today by a three-judge panel on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, concluded that a lower court judge erred when he vacated Lisa Montgomery's execution date in an order last week.
US District Court Judge Randolph Moss had ruled the Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled Montgomery's execution and he vacated 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 even 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 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004.
Montgomery drove from her Kansas home to Stinnett's house in Skidmore under the guise of adopting a puppy, prosecutors said.
When she arrived at the home, Montgomery used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months' pregnant, but Stinnett was conscious and trying to defend herself as Montgomery used a kitchen knife to cut the baby girl from the womb, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Montgomery removed the baby from Stinnett's body, took the child with her, and attempted to pass the girl off as her own.
Montgomery's lawyers argued she had been suffering from delusions when she killed Stinnett, but a jury rejected her defence. Her lawyers had also argued she was suffering from pseudocyesis, which causes a woman to falsely believe she is pregnant and exhibit outward signs of pregnancy.
President-elect 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 on January 20.