On Wednesday, January 13, the federal government executed Lisa Montgomery, the first federal execution of a woman since 1953. On Thursday, January 14, the federal government executed Cory Johnson, a Black man, a few days before the celebration of the birthday of Marin Luther King, Jr. Both Lisa and Cory lived with profound disabilities that should have been taken into account before rushing to deliver the ultimate punishment this week. The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) strongly condemns these unnecessary and brutal executions.
Lisa Montgomery, 52, endured unspeakable sexual and physical abuse beginning as a small child and throughout her adult life. She was gang-raped repeatedly as an 11-year-old girl by her stepfather and his friends. Her mother trafficked her in exchange for plumbing and electrical work. Further, Lisa lived with organic brain damage caused by fetal alcohol exposure, and her stepfather smashing her head against the concrete floor of a room he built to rape her. As an adult, Lisa was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, fetal alcohol syndrome, and severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cory Johnson, also 52, had an intellectual disability, demonstrated by his apparent cognitive limitations and numerous IQ tests from his youth. Later IQ scores were artificially inflated due to the racist practice of “ethnic adjustments.” Under this practice, described by Dr. David Shapiro in The American Psychological Association Journal, “Some psychologists were testifying that defendants who were from ethnic minority groups had IQ scores that were suppressed and that therefore their scores had to be ‘adjusted’ upward to compensate for the suppression.” As a result, Cory’s IQ score was artificially inflated so as to permit his execution. Prosecutors called Cory a “criminal mastermind.” Although the U.S. Supreme Court has barred executions of people with intellectual disabilities since 2002, last night the Court refused to order a halt to Cory’s execution that would have allowed a lower court to carefully consider Cory’s disability.
Both Lisa and Cory were convicted of truly heinous crimes, but their deaths have only compounded the impact of those horrible tragedies. Their executions have not advanced the cause of justice but have instead displayed the triumph of vengeance over compassion and true justice.
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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the P&A/CAP Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.