…he is also rushing to execute less well-connected people based on wholly arbitrary whim:
In its hurry to use its final days in power to execute federal prisoners, the administration of President Donald Trump has trampled over an array of barriers, both legal and practical, according to court records that have not been previously reported.
Officials gave public explanations for their choice of which prisoners should die that misstated key facts from the cases. They moved ahead with executions in the middle of the night. They left one prisoner strapped to the gurney while lawyers worked to remove a court order. They executed a second prisoner while an appeal was still pending, leaving the court to then dismiss the appeal as “moot” because the man was already dead. They bought drugs from a secret pharmacy that failed a quality test. They hired private executioners and paid them in cash.
The unprecedented string of executions is often attributed to Attorney General William P. Barr, and his role was instrumental: It was Barr’s signature that authorized the use of a new lethal injection drug, his quotes that trumpeted the execution announcements and his position as attorney general that holds the ultimate authority in capital cases. (Barr is resigning effective Wednesday.)
But a ProPublica review of internal government records shows that Barr did not act alone. The push to resume federal executions for the first time since 2003 long predates Barr, with groundwork beginning as far back as 2011 and accelerating after Trump took office in 2017. It could not have happened without the help of Justice Department lawyers; officials at the Bureau of Prisons; two professors who endorsed the government’s injection method; conservative Supreme Court justices who dismissed final appeals; and Trump himself, who encouraged the executions and declined to commute them.
One of the condemned prisoners Trump and Barr have scheduled for a lame-duck execution is Lisa Montgomery. She did commit a horrible murder. There are, to put it mildly, mitigating circumstances:
Ms. Montgomery has bipolar disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorder, psychosis, traumatic brain injury and most likely fetal alcohol syndrome. She was born into a family rife with mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Ms. Montgomery’s mother, Judy Shaughnessy, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by her father.
She was forced to sit for hours in a highchair if she didn’t finish her food. Ms. Shaughnessy so regularly covered her daughter’s mouth with duct tape to keep her quiet, Lisa learned not to cry. Ms. Shaughnessy told an investigator that Lisa’s first words were, “Don’t spank me. It hurts.”
Lisa’s stepfather, Jack Kleiner, began to sexually assault her when she was around 13. He built a shed-like room with its own entrance on the side of the family’s trailer outside Tulsa, Okla., and kept Ms. Montgomery there. Ms. Montgomery’s post-conviction team learned that Mr. Kleiner, who was a rampant alcoholic, would bring friends over to rape her, often for hours, often three at once. Ms. Shaughnessy also began to prostitute her daughter to offset bills for plumbing and electric work. (She refused to speak to her daughter’s post-conviction counsel, and has since died.)
Before he died in 2009, Mr. Kleiner videotaped a statement denying the abuse, but his employer testified that Mr. Kleiner had admitted to raping Ms. Montgomery. Her half brother Teddy Kleiner confirmed that their mother would make the other kids go outside while she was being raped (his statement wasn’t made until 2013).
The jury in her 2007 trial heard very little of any of this. Ms. Montgomery’s male attorneys failed to offer a comprehensive picture of her decades of torture. Instead, they suggested that her other half brother Tommy Kleiner was the actual killer, despite having his own probation officer as his alibi.
Potter Stewart’s prematurely abandoned observation that American death sentences are “cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual” remains truer than ever; the quality of your counsel is much more important than the severity of the offense and the mitigating factors. And obviously Trump executing someone who didn’t kill anybody while he pardons 4 people who fired machine guns and/or grenade launchers on a group of unarmed civilians just stuck in a traffic jam takes the arbitrary cruelty to a new level.