The last woman to be executed in the US was Bonnie Heady, who died in a gas chamber in Missouri in 1953. Lisa Montgomery is set to be executed on January 12, absent a last-minute appeal.
According to an Appellate Court Decision, Lisa Montgomery and Bobbie Jo Stinnett befriended one another after meeting at a dog show in April 2004. Stinnett maintained a website to promote Happy Haven Farms, her dog breeding business located in her home in Skidmore, Missouri. The website included pictures of Stinnett and her dogs. She became pregnant in the spring of 2004 and was eight months pregnant in December 2004.
In spring 2004, Montgomery began telling her friends, family, and online-community that she was pregnant. More than a decade earlier, however, she had undergone a sterilization procedure that made her incapable of becoming pregnant. Nonetheless, Montgomery reported testing positive for pregnancy, began wearing maternity clothes and started behaving as if she were pregnant. Unaware of the permanent sterilization, Montgomery’s husband, Kevin Montgomery. and her children believed that she was expecting.
Montgomery contacted Stinnett on December 15, 2004, regarding a litter of puppies she had for sale; The women agreed to meet the next day. On December 16, Montgomery arrived at Stinnett’s home carrying a sharp kitchen knife and a white cord in her jacket pocket.
Montgomery attacked Stinnett and used the cord to strangle her until she was unconscious. Montgomery then used the kitchen knife to cut into Stinnett’s abdomen, causing Stinnett to regain consciousness.
A struggle ensued, and Montgomery strangled Stinnett a second-time, killing her. Montgomery extracted the fetus from Stinnett’s body, cut the umbilical cord, and left with the baby. Montgomery entered her car and drove away from the Stinnett home, holding the baby in her arms and pinching the umbilical cord.
Montgomery stopped to clamp the umbilical cord and to suction any mucus from the baby’s mouth. The baby cried, but other than a cut above her eye, she was uninjured. After cleaning the baby with wipes, she retrieved the car seat she had stored in her car’s trunk and placed it in the seat. The baby survived.
She drove to Topeka, Kansas, and called her husband, telling him that she had gone into labor while Christmas shopping and gave birth at a women’s clinic in Topeka. They drove to Montgomery’s home. The next day, the two called friends to announce the delivery and went out for breakfast.
In the morning. they ran errands and went out for breakfast, introducing “Abigail” to the people they met. Shortly after they returned home, law enforcement officials knocked on their door. Sergeant Investigator Randy Strong explained that they were investigating the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. He asked about the baby, and Montgomery said she had given birth at a women’s clinic in Topeka.
Strong then asked to speak to Montgomery outside the home. She admitted to killing Stinnett, removing the fetus from Stinnett’s womb, and abducting the child.
Montgomery’s Personal History
For years, Montgomery was physically and sexually abused by her stepfather. She was sixteen when her mother and stepfather divorced. From childhood on, Montgomery had endured a tumultuous relationship with her mother. Montgomery married Carl Boman, her step-brother, when she turned eighteen in August 1986. She had four children from 1987-90.
Montgomery underwent the aforementioned sterilization procedure described above. The procedure was successful. In the years following the sterilization procedure, Montgomery claimed that she had four more pregnancies. She and Boman divorced in 1998.
Montgomery was charged with kidnapping resulting in death were aggravating circumstances existed. The defense raised multiple mental health disorders and related defenses. The jury found Montgomery guilty, and at the Sentencing phase, recommended the death penalty, which the court imposed.
Much of the psychiatric and medical evidence produced through expert witnesses was reduced by the trial judge and affirmed on appeal. To be sure, such evidence was complex and extended; however, the nature and facts of this crime clearly established that Montgomery had a mental illness. The protocols and evidentiary rules governing the admission of expert testimony are likewise complicated. We think that these rules should be softened and extended to the benefit of a defendant.
Psychiatric developments are continuously changing; what can be said today concerning a particular disorder may not be so tomorrow; we have witnessed this occurring in DNA cases. In death penalty cases, the jury should receive any relevant evidence regarding mental illness claims and be left to decide whether the information is mitigating—particularly at the sentencing phase. The question is whether a “normal” person would commit the kind of crime we have here absent her mental maladies?
One doesn’t have to wade too far into an analysis of what is generally accepted in the scientific community and how the message should be delivered before it is readably apparent that a defendant with certain mental sicknesses is not operating evenly on the playing field; the jury should be allowed to assess this information with less instruction.