Jan. 13 (Reuters) — The U.S. government executed convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court cleared the last hurdle by overturning a stay.

Montgomery was the first female prisoner to be executed in by the U.S. government since 1953.

Challenges were fought across multiple federal courts on whether to allow the execution of Montgomery, 52, who was put to death by lethal injection of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate in the Justice Department's execution chamber at its prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The U.S. Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, cleared the way for her execution after overturning a stay by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kelley Henry, Montgomery's lawyer, called the execution "vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power."

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"No one can credibly dispute Mrs. Montgomery's longstanding debilitating mental disease — diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons' own doctors," Henry said in a statement.

She was pronounced deceased at 1:31 a.m. EST on Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.

Montgomery was convicted in 2007 in Missouri of kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight months pregnant. Montgomery cut Stinnett's fetus from the womb. The child survived.

Some of Stinnett's relatives traveled to witness Montgomery's execution, the Justice Department said.

As the execution process began, asked by a female executioner if she had any last words, Montgomery responded in a quiet, muffled voice, "No," according to a reporter who served as a media witness.

Federal executions had been on pause for 17 years and only three men had been executed by the federal government since 1963 until the practice resumed last year under President Donald Trump, whose outspoken support for capital punishment long predates his entry into politics.

Convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery pictured at the Federal Medical Center Fort Worth in an undated photograph. Courtesy of Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery/Handout via REUTERS./File Photo/File Photo
Convicted murderer Lisa Montgomery pictured at the Federal Medical Center Fort Worth in an undated photograph. Courtesy of Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery/Handout via REUTERS./File Photo/File Photo

Montgomery's lawyers asked for Trump's clemency last week, saying she committed her crime after a childhood in which she was abused and repeatedly raped by her stepfather and his friends, and so should instead face life in prison.

It was one of three executions the U.S. Department of Justice had scheduled for the final full week of Trump's administration. Two other executions scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been delayed, for now at least, by a federal judge in Washington, to allow the condemned murderers to recover from COVID-19.

The American Civil Liberties Union and some liberal lawmakers had previously opposed the government's plans to execute Montgomery, with ACLU saying her life had been "marred by unthinkable trauma that resulted in documented brain damage and mental illness."

Montgomery's execution was the first of 2021 by the federal government and the 11th since last year.

In 2020, the U.S. government executed 10 people and it was for the first time ever that the federal government conducted more executions than all U.S. states combined, according to a database compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Kenneth Maxwell, Jacqueline Wong and Nick Macfie)