America’s First Female Execution since 1953 & #MeToo in Iran
America’s First Female Execution since 1953
By Marin Yearley
To what extent does one’s life experiences excuse their actions? Can mental illness and trauma justify heinous crimes? If so, how should these justifications affect criminal sentencing? These are just a few of the many pressing questions that have surfaced surrounding a recent resolution to one highly controversial and historic case.
On January 13th, 2021, Lisa Montogomery became the first woman to receive capital punishment in almost 70 years when she was executed by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. As a landmark event in America’s judicial history, Montgomery’s case has generated significant media attention. Specifically, Montgomery’s traumatic childhood, extreme mental illness, and brain damage have raised controversy over the morality of her execution and the degree to which these circumstances can justify criminal behavior.
When Montgomery was first put on trial in 2007, she stood little chance of winning mercy from the judge and jury. At the time, Montgomery’s inexperienced and all-male legal team barely touched upon her brutal past of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, allowing the prosecution to portray her solely as a cruel and heinous murderer. Granted, Montgomery’s crime was a heinous one. In December of 2004, Montgomery assumed the false identity of “Darlene Fischer” and visited the home of a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnet under the pretense of wanting to purchase some puppies she was selling. Upon arriving, Montgomery proceeded to strangle and murder Stinnet, later cutting out the unborn fetus and passing it off as her own baby. While these crimes are certainly gruesome and inexcusable, Montgomery’s traumatic life and questionable sanity blur the lines of what constitutes appropriate justice in the situation. As one of the psyche consultants to Montgomery’s legal team, Sandra Babcock, put it: “Lisa is not the worst of the worst – she is the most broken of the broken.”
After the initial sentencing that condemned her to death row, a new team of lawyers and psychologists assumed Montgomery’s case and finally began to uncover the true depths of this deeply traumatic past that Babcock refers to. According to interviews with Montgomery and several of her family members, she was physically and emotionally abused by her mother throughout her childhood and raped by her stepfather and many repairmen who Montgomery was forced to engage with in order to “pay the bills.” The abuse continued into Montgomery’s adult life when she married her stepbrother at 18 who continued to rape and mistreat her until her arrest in 2007. After further evaluation, Montgomery was found to have bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, dissociative disorder, psychosis, and traumatic brain injury from a blow to the head from her stepfather. It is likely that if these conditions had been taken into consideration in her original trial, Montgomery never would have been deemed mentally competent or liable enough to receive the death penalty. Despite her new legal team’s eight year battle to reduce her sentence, the Trump administration and the supreme court denied all appeals and finally sealed Montgomery’s fate this January, just one week before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
However controversial, Montgomery’s execution will be remembered for its historical significance and broader implications regarding the role of mental illness and trauma in the justice system. The final question that remains now is what this case will mean for the future of criminal sentencing in America. Will the conversation continue or was Montgomery’s case just another fleeting news headline? Only time will tell.
Outlawing Sexual Violence and Harassment for Women in Iran
By Talia Levenson
“In May, Romina Ashrafi, 14 years old, was beheaded by her father for running away with her boyfriend.” (New York Times)
Iranian lawmakers created a bill to prevent men from sexually assaulting and harassing women. The bill was passed by Iran’s cabinet members in September 2019, but in order for the bill to be put into effect, it needed to be passed by Iran’s conservative parliament. The bill includes many progressive guidelines including giving violence survivors resources for support, educating judges and other judiciary staff on violence issues, and launching a fund to support survivors and improvised women. In addition, the bill supports broadcasting programs that promote the end of violence against women, including educating viewers on how to identify signs of abuse in women.
There are increasing punishments the new bill will put into effect. For instance, if a man were to send a women unsolicited sexual messages, demanding sexual relations, or forcing sexual acts, they can be charged with up to two years in prison. They can also potentially receive up to 99 lashes and monetary fines.
Although the bill is a step in the right direction, it does not address child marriage, marital rape, or accurately define domestic violence. The bill has also been stripped of definitive change, as it has been adjusted to reflect the views of the conservative lawmakers, in order to increase chances of it being passed. There are many women’s rights activists in Iran who are furious with the current version of the bill and are punching towards governmental recognition of the gaps.
We must hope that parliament will pass this bill ,which will provide Iranian women with feelings of greater security and importance. Although the bill is not up to international standards, it is only the beginning of a chain of women’s rights in Iran.