Death Row Conditions Retraumatize Woman Who was Sexually Terrorized for Decades

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed for a preliminary injunction today in its lawsuit against Attorney General William Barr, the federal Bureau of Prisons, and the wardens of Terre Haute Correctional Complex and Federal Medical Center at Carswell. The motion challenges the torturous conditions under which Lisa Montgomery has been held since a warrant for her Dec. 8 execution was issued due to parallels to the decades of sexual terror she endured. It demands an end to these conditions and seeks to prevent the added trauma that will inevitably result from her planned transfer to the all-male Terre Haute prison.

When her execution date was scheduled on Oct. 16, Lisa was immediately deprived of all of her belongings, including books, legal papers, and photographs of her children. She was transferred to a cold cell with bright lights that shine all day and night. Male guards watch her 24/7, including when she uses the toilet. Her standard clothing, including bra, panties, and socks were taken away, leaving her only with a loose gown with velcro straps. She finally received a pair of mesh panties, with the instruction, “be a good girl, now.” The defendants in the ACLU’s lawsuit plan to transfer her to an all-male prison as her execution date looms.

These conditions would be unbearable for anyone, but Montgomery’s history of immense sexual terror, trauma, and mental illness that developed as a result makes the conditions horrific. At the age of 11, her stepfather raped her for the first time. This abuse went on for years — he eventually built a special room to isolate and rape her. When her mother found out, she put a gun to Lisa’s head and threatened her. When Lisa was in her early teens, her mother trafficked her to older men, leading her to be vaginally, anally, orally raped — sometimes by multiple men at one time. When Lisa was 17, she was coerced into marrying the adult son of her mother’s boyfriend, who continued to sexually torture and rape her.

“For someone who has suffered the kind of sexual terror and trauma that Lisa has, this treatment isn’t just cruel and unusual — it is torture,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “Lisa is the first woman to be executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years, but the conditions she is held under are far harsher than any man on death row, or anyone on suicide watch. The depravity and cruelty of the treatment are seemingly the point. The Constitution does not give our government permission to torture people before putting them to death — these conditions must be alleviated immediately.”

Lisa takes several antipsychotic medications to manage her mental health, but even with treatment continues to show symptoms of her sexual trauma, including breaking out in hives when meeting new men and needing to be accompanied by women when seeing male prison staff. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as complex post-traumatic stress disorder. She dissociates regularly, hallucinates, and struggles to know what is real.

This lawsuit asks the court to find the conditions of Lisa’s incarceration and planned transfer to the all-male Terre Haute prison violate the Eighth Amendment and provide immediate relief, including an order halting the transfer.

A number of advocates and groups have sent letters asking President Trump to halt Lisa’s execution altogether, including 41 current and former prosecutors, over 800 people and organizations that combat violence against women, over 100 people and organizations that fight human trafficking, and 40 advocates who work to protect abused children.

You can read more about Lisa’s full story, here.

The complaint is online, here.

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