POCATELLO — Two local pastors and a former state lawmaker have plans to host a vigil Friday at the Bannock County Courthouse to lament three federal executions that had been scheduled for this week.
The vigil, hosted by consulting minister with the Pocatello Unitarian Universalist Fellowship the Rev. Jenny Peek, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd Pastor Wayne Shipman and retired state Rep. Donna Boe, is set for noon on the front lawn of the Bannock County Courthouse facing East Center Street in Pocatello.
“A small group of us want to bring awareness to the federal executions that are taking place this week and lament on these killings that are happening in our name as U.S. citizens,” Boe told the Idaho State Journal during a Tuesday phone call. “We want the vigil to serve as a reminder that capital punishment is morally wrong and that all human beings are worthy in the eyes of God.”
The announcement of the vigil comes on the same day the U.S. government’s plans to carry out its first execution of a female inmate in nearly seven decades were put on hold amid a flurry of legal rulings, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, two other executions set for this week were also halted because the inmates tested positive for COVID-19, the AP said.
Lisa Montgomery faced execution Tuesday for killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife. Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own.
An appeals court granted Montgomery a stay of execution Tuesday, shortly after another appeals court lifted an Indiana judge’s ruling that found she was likely mentally ill and couldn’t comprehend she would be put to death, the AP said. But both appeals were lifted, allowing the execution of the only female on federal death row to go forward.
Lisa Montgomery, 52, was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was the 11th prisoner to receive a lethal injection there since July when President Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, resumed federal executions following 17 years without one.
Separately, a federal judge for the U.S. District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling Tuesday. Johnson, convicted of killing seven people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, and Higgs, convicted of ordering the murders of three women in Maryland, both tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
So long as the other two executions that were scheduled for this week remain delayed, Boe said the vigil Friday will be in recognition of Montgomery and the 10 men to have been executed in during the last seven months of Trump’s presidency.
”Our hope is to move toward abolition of the federal death penalty,” Boe said.
Since President Donald Trump resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year pause, 11 federal inmates were have been put to death. Ten of those deaths happened in 2020 — a higher yearly total than under any president since the 1800s, according to the Los Angeles Times.
For the first time in history, the U.S. government has carried out more executions in a year than all states that still enforce capital punishment, according to an annual report on the death penalty released last month. The Death Penalty Information Center report found that the COVID-19 pandemic halted many executions and court proceedings at the state-level.
Colorado in 2020 became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty, also a contributing factor to the fewest number of state executions in 37 years, the report found.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, on Monday unveiled legislation that would seek to end federal capital punishment, according to National Public Radio.
NPR reported the Democratic proposal comes as the party will have unified control of Congress after victories in two Georgia Senate races, a change in fortunes for Democratic legislative priorities. The legislation would end capital punishment at the federal level and require the resentencing of all federal inmates on death row.
The Death Penalty Information Center report also said six prisoners were exonerated from death row in 2020. In each of the six cases, prosecutorial misconduct had contributed to the wrongful conviction. The men exonerated this year spent between 14 and 37 years awaiting exoneration, the report found.
“Around 2,500 prisoners currently face execution in the United States,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center website. “The national death-row population has declined for 18 consecutive years, as sentence reversals, executions and deaths by other causes are outpacing new death sentences.”
There have been 1,529 executions since 1976, according to The Marshall Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.
Boe said she contacted the Bannock County Commissioner’s office on Tuesday to stress the importance that Friday’s scheduled vigil is 100 percent peaceful, will not involve any protests nor any storming of the Bannock County Courthouse after an angry mob of Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. last week.
She said the commission was appreciative of the gesture.
Boe says she’s an ardent opponent of the death penalty, for moral reasons, adding that her belief of the origin of penitentiaries was to offer those convicted of a crime with an opportunity to repent and accept responsibility for their actions.
“The word penitentiary began when the Quakers believed everyone had the chance to be penitent of their choices and a penitentiary provides that,” Boe said. “Death row inmates are oftentimes incarcerated for decades before they are executed. After 20 years, they are typically not the same person as when they went in but an order of execution eliminates the chance for them to prove themselves.”