USA TODAY US Edition
Judge puts halt to execution of female inmate
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.