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US to carry out first federal execution of woman in seven decades

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US Department of Justice announced on Friday that it had scheduled the first federal execution of a woman in nearly 70 years, setting December 8 as the date for the death of Lisa Montgomery, convicted of ‘a murder in 2004.

Montgomery, who was convicted of strangling a pregnant woman in Missouri, will be executed by lethal injection at the US penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the department said in a statement.

The last woman executed by the U.S. government was Bonnie Heady, who was put to death in a gas chamber in Missouri in 1953, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

On Friday, the Justice Department also scheduled an execution on December 10 for Brandon Bernard, who along with his accomplices murdered two youth ministers in 1999.

The two executions will be the eighth and ninth that the federal government will have carried out in 2020.

The Trump administration ended a 17-year informal hiatus in federal executions in July, after announcing last year that the Bureau of Prisons was moving to a new single-drug protocol for lethal injections, from a combination of three drugs that he last used in 2003..

The new protocol reignited longstanding legal challenges to lethal injections. In August, a federal judge in Washington, DC ruled that the Justice Department was breaking the food, drug and cosmetic law by failing to seek a medical prescription to administer the highly regulated barbiturate.

But an appeals court ruled that the violation did not in itself constitute irreparable harm and allowed federal executions to continue.

In 2007, a US District Court in the Western Missouri District sentenced Montgomery to death after convicting her of a federal kidnapping resulting in death.

Her lawyer, Kelley Henry, said Montgomery deserved to live because she suffered from mental illness and abuse as a child.

Lisa Montgomery has long accepted full responsibility for her crime and she will never leave prison, Henry said in a statement. But his severe mental illness and the devastating effects of his childhood trauma make his execution a deep injustice.

Bernards’ attorney Robert Owen said in a statement that the federal government misled the jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, who in 2000 found Bernard guilty of murder. His decision was marred by false testimony, Owen said.

This evidence confirms that Mr. Bernard is simply not one of the worst of the worst offenders for whom we reserve the death penalty, and that saving his life would pose no risk to anyone, Owen said.

Reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Brendan OBrien and Rich McKay; Edited by Sandra Maler and Bill Tarrant

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