The US is to execute a female federal inmate for the first time in almost 70 years, the Justice Department said on Friday.

Lisa Montgomery was convicted of strangling a pregnant woman before cutting her body open and kidnapping her baby in Missouri in 2004.

She is due to be executed by a lethal injection Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana on December 8.

The last woman to be executed by the US government was Bonnie Heady, who died in a gas chamber in Missouri in 1953, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.

The federal execution of Brandon Bernard, who took part in the murders of two youth ministers in 1999, has also been scheduled for December.

US Attorney General William Barr called the crimes “especially heinous murders”.

In December 2004, Montgomery drove from Kansas to the home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, in Missouri, purportedly to purchase a puppy, the Department of Justice said in a press release.

“Once inside the residence, Montgomery attacked and strangled Stinnett – who was eight months pregnant – until the victim lost consciousness,” it said.

“Using a kitchen knife, Montgomery then cut into Stinnett’s abdomen, causing her to regain consciousness. A struggle ensued, and Montgomery strangled Stinnett to death. Montgomery then removed the baby from Stinnett’s body, took the baby with her, and attempted to pass it off as her own.”

In 2007, a jury found Montgomery guilty of federal kidnapping resulting in death, and unanimously recommended a death sentence. However, Montgomery’s lawyers say she experienced brain damage from beatings as a child and is mentally unwell, so should not face the death penalty.

They also argued she was suffering from pseudocyesis, which causes a woman to falsely believe she is pregnant and exhibit outward signs of pregnancy.

According to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 people were sentenced to death in federal cases between 1988 and 2018 but only three have been executed.

The executions of Montgomery and Bernard will be the eighth and ninth the federal government has carried out this year.

The Trump administration said last year it would resume federal executions after a long hiatus.

In a statement at the time, the attorney general said: “Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals. The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

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