USA TODAY US Edition

Judge puts halt to ex­e­cu­tion of fe­male in­mate

- Heather Hollingswo­rth Crime · Sexual Abuse · Incidents · Violence and Abuse · Society · Mission · Kansas · United States of America · U.S. government · Missouri · Topeka · Terre Haute · Indiana · Joe Biden · Donald Trump · Terre Haute · Melvern, KS · Skidmore, MO · Nodaway County · Nodaway, Missouri

MIS­SION, Kan. – A judge has granted a stay in what was set to be the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s first ex­e­cu­tion of a fe­male in­mate in nearly seven decades – a Kansas woman who killed an ex­pec­tant mother in Mis­souri, cut the baby from her womb and passed off the new­born as her own.

Judge Pa­trick Han­lon granted the stay late Mon­day, cit­ing the need to de­ter­mine Mont­gomery’s men­tal com­pe­tence, re­ported the Topeka Cap­i­tal-Jour­nal. Lisa Mont­gomery faced ex­e­cu­tion Tues­day at the Fed­eral Cor­rec­tional Com­plex in Terre Haute, In­di­ana, just eight days be­fore Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Bi­den, an op­po­nent of the fed­eral death penalty, takes of­fice. Mont­gomery drove about 170 miles from her farm­house in Melvern, Kansas, to the north­west Mis­souri town of Skid­more un­der the guise of adopt­ing a rat ter­rier puppy from Bob­bie Jo Stin­nett, 23, a dog breeder. She stran­gled Stin­nett with a rope be­fore per­form­ing a crude ce­sarean sec­tion and flee­ing with the baby.

She was ar­rested the next day af­ter show­ing off the pre­ma­ture in­fant, Vic­to­ria Jo, who is now 16 years old and hasn’t spo­ken pub­licly about the tragedy.

“As we walked across the thresh­old our Am­ber Alert was scrolling across the TV at that very mo­ment,” re­called Randy Strong, who was part of the north­west Mis­souri ma­jor case squad at the time.

He looked to his right and saw Mont­gomery hold­ing the new­born and was awash in re­lief when she handed her over to law en­force­ment. The pre­ced­ing hours had been a blur in which he pho­tographed Stin­nett’s body and spent a sleep­less night look­ing for clues – un­sure of whether the baby was dead or alive and hav­ing no idea what she looked like.

But then tips be­gan ar­riv­ing about Mont­gomery, who had a his­tory of fak­ing preg­nan­cies and sud­denly had a baby. Strong, now the sher­iff of No­d­away County, where the killing hap­pened, hopped in an un­marked car with an­other of­fi­cer. He learned en route that the email ad­dress that was used to set up the deadly meet­ing with Stin­nett had been sent from a dial-up con­nec­tion at Mont­gomery’s home.

“I ab­so­lutely knew I was walk­ing into the killer’s home,” re­called Strong, say­ing rat ter­ri­ers ran around his feet as he ap­proached her house. Like Stin­nett, Mont­gomery also raised rat ter­ri­ers.

Pros­e­cu­tors said her mo­tive was that Stin­nett’s ex-hus­band knew she had un­der­gone a tubal lig­a­tion that made her ster­ile and planned to re­veal she was ly­ing about be­ing preg­nant in an ef­fort to get cus­tody of two of their four chil­dren. Need­ing a baby be­fore a fast-ap­proach­ing court date, Mont­gomery turned her fo­cus on Stin­nett, whom she had met at dog shows.

Mont­gomery’s lawyers, though, have ar­gued that sex­ual abuse dur­ing Mont­gomery’s child­hood led to men­tal ill­ness. At­tor­ney Kel­ley Henry spoke in fa­vor of Mon­day’s de­ci­sion, say­ing in a state­ment to the Cap­i­tal-Jour­nal that “Mrs. Mont­gomery has brain dam­age and se­vere men­tal ill­ness that was ex­ac­er­bated by the life­time of sex­ual tor­ture she suf­fered at the hands of care­tak­ers.”

Her step­fa­ther de­nied the sex­ual abuse in video­taped tes­ti­mony and said he didn’t have a good mem­ory when con­fronted with a tran­script of a di­vorce pro­ceed­ing in which he ad­mit­ted some phys­i­cal abuse. Her mother tes­ti­fied that she never filed a po­lice com­plaint be­cause he had threat­ened her and her chil­dren.

But the ju­rors who heard the case, some cry­ing through the grue­some tes­ti­mony, dis­re­garded the de­fense in con­vict­ing her of kid­nap­ping re­sult­ing in death.

Mont­gomery was sched­uled to be put to death Dec. 8. But the ex­e­cu­tion was tem­po­rar­ily blocked af­ter her at­tor­neys con­tracted the coro­n­avirus.

The re­sump­tion of fed­eral ex­e­cu­tions af­ter a 17-year pause started on July 14. Anti-death penalty groups said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was push­ing for ex­e­cu­tions be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion.

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