Murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett

Bobbie Jo Stinnett (December 4, 1981 – December 16, 2004) was a pregnant 23-year-old American woman found murdered in her home in Skidmore, Missouri. The perpetrator, Lisa Marie Montgomery,[1] then aged 36, strangled Stinnett and cut Stinnett's unborn child, eight months into gestation, from her womb. The baby was safely recovered by authorities and returned to the father.[2]

Memorial to Bobbie Jo Stinnett in Skidmore, Missouri

Montgomery was tried and found guilty in 2007. She was executed by lethal injection shortly after midnight on January 13, 2021, having exhausted the appeals process. She thus became the first female federal inmate in 67 years to be executed by the United States federal government, and the fourth overall.[3][4][5]

BackgroundEdit

Bobbie Jo Stinnett and her husband ran a dog-breeding business from their residence.[6] Stinnett and Montgomery met through dog show events and had ongoing interactions in an online Rat Terrier chatroom called "Ratter Chatter".[7][8] Montgomery told Stinnett that she, too, was pregnant, leading to the two women chatting online and exchanging e-mails about their pregnancies.[9]:155

Murder and investigationEdit

On December 16, 2004, Montgomery entered Stinnett's house and caused her death by strangulation. Montgomery then cut Stinnett's unborn child from her womb and fled the scene.[3] There was no sign of forced entry; authorities believe that Montgomery, posing as customer "Darlene Fischer", had arranged to visit Stinnett's house on that day.[6] It is known that Stinnett was expecting the arrival in Skidmore of prospective buyers for a terrier at about the time of her murder.[9]

Stinnett was discovered by her mother Becky Harper, lying in a pool of blood, approximately an hour after the murder.[10] Harper immediately called authorities and described the wounds inflicted upon her daughter as appearing as if her "stomach had exploded".[11] Paramedics were unsuccessful in attempts to revive Stinnett, and she was pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital in Maryville.[12]

The following day, police arrested Montgomery at her farmhouse in Melvern, Kansas. The kidnapped newborn, who she claimed as her own, was recovered and soon placed in custody of the father.[13][14] The quick recovery and capture was attributed to the use of forensic computer investigations which tracked Montgomery and Stinnett's online communication.

The investigation was aided by the issuance of an AMBER alert to enlist the public's help. The alert was initially denied as it had not been used before in an unborn child’s case and thus there was no description of the victim. Eventually after intervention by Congressman Sam Graves, the alert was implemented. When authorities went to speak to Montgomery they found her in her living room holding the baby and watching television with the AMBER alert flashing on the screen.[15] DNA testing was used to confirm the infant's identity.[16]

PerpetratorEdit

Lisa Montgomery
 
Born
Lisa Marie Montgomery

(1968-02-27)February 27, 1968
DiedJanuary 13, 2021(2021-01-13) (aged 52)
Cause of deathExecution by lethal injection
Criminal statusExecuted
Spouse(s)Kevin Montgomery[2]
Criminal chargeKidnapping resulting in death
PenaltyDeath by lethal injection
Details
DateDecember 16, 2004
CountryUnited States
State(s)Missouri
Date apprehended
December 17, 2004

Lisa Marie Montgomery (February 27, 1968 – January 13, 2021)[17] resided in Melvern, Kansas, at the time of the murder.[18] She was raised in an abusive home where she was allegedly raped by her stepfather and his friends, and physically beaten, from the age of 11.[3] She sought escape mentally through alcoholism. When Montgomery was 14, her mother discovered the abuse and reacted by threatening her daughter with a gun.[19] Montgomery tried to escape by marrying at the age of 18, but both her first marriage and a second marriage resulted in further abuse.[19]

Montgomery had four children before she underwent a tubal ligation in 1990.[17] She falsely claimed to be pregnant several times after the procedure according to both her first and second spouses.[17][20]

At the time of her arrest, it was speculated that Montgomery's motivation stemmed from a miscarriage she may have suffered and subsequently concealed from her family.[21] Further possibilities surrounding her motive were raised following speculation that her former husband planned to reveal she had lied about being pregnant in an effort to get custody of her children; it was surmised that Montgomery needed to produce a baby in order to counter this charge of habitual lying about pregnancy.[22]

Trial and rulingEdit

Montgomery was charged with the federal offense of "kidnapping resulting in death",[13] a crime established by the Federal Kidnapping Act of 1932,[12] and described in Title 18 of the United States Code. If convicted, she faced a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty.[12]

At a pre-trial hearing, a neuropsychologist testified that head injuries which Montgomery had sustained some years before, could have damaged the part of the brain that controls aggression.[23] During her trial in federal court, her defense attorneys, led by Frederick Duchardt, asserted that she had pseudocyesis, a mental condition that causes a woman to falsely believe she is pregnant and exhibit outward signs of pregnancy.[24] According to The Guardian, Duchardt attempted to follow this line of defense only one week before the trial began after being forced to abandon a contradictory argument that Stinnett was murdered by Montgomery's brother Tommy, who had an alibi. As a result, Montgomery's family refused to co-operate with Duchardt and described her background to the jury.[19]

Dr. V. S. Ramachandran and MD William Logan gave expert testimony that Montgomery had pseudocyesis in addition to depression, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.[25][26] Ramachandran testified that Montgomery's stories about her actions fluctuated because of her delusional state and that she was unable to dictate the nature and quality of her acts.[27] Both federal prosecutor Roseann Ketchmark and the opposing expert witness forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz disagreed strongly with the diagnosis of pseudocyesis.[28][29]

On October 22 2007, jurors found Montgomery guilty, rejecting the defense claim that Montgomery was delusional.[28] On October 26, the jury recommended the death sentence.[30] Judge Gary A. Fenner formally sentenced Montgomery to death.[13] On April 4, 2008, a judge upheld the jury's recommendation for death.[31]

Duchardt's pseudocyesis defense, Montgomery's past trauma and separate diagnosis of mental illness were not fully revealed to the jury until after her conviction by her appeals team. This led critics including Guardian journalist David Rose to argue that Duchardt provided an incompetent legal defense for Montgomery.[19] Fenner required Duchardt to be cross-examined in November 2016. Duchardt rejected all criticism and defended his conduct.[19]

Subsequent legal proceedingsEdit

On March 19, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Montgomery's certiorari petition.[32] Montgomery, who was registered for the Federal Bureau of Prisons under number 11072-031, was as of 2017 incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, where she would remain until she would be transferred to the site of her execution.[33][34] For a long time, she was the only woman with a federal death sentence.[35]

Experts who examined Montgomery after conviction concluded that by the time of her crime she had long been living with psychosis, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorders. She was said to be often disassociated from reality and to have permanent brain damage from numerous beatings at the hands of her parents and spouses.[36] Montgomery was scheduled for execution on December 8, 2020, by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, but this was delayed following her attorneys' contracting COVID-19.[37][38] On December 23, 2020, Montgomery was given a new execution date of January 12, 2021.[39] U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss found that "the director's order setting a new execution date while the Court's stay was in effect was 'not in accordance with law,'" prohibiting the re-scheduling of the execution before January 1, 2021.[35]

On January 1, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated Moss's ruling, effectively reinstating her execution date of January 12.[40] On that date, federal judge Patrick Hanlon granted a stay of her execution on the grounds that her mental competence must first be tested as it could be argued she did not understand the grounds for her execution, per the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[41] The stay was then vacated by the Supreme Court via a 6-3 vote. The execution was ordered to be carried out immediately.[42][8] She arrived in Terre Haute's death row on January 12.[43]

ExecutionEdit

Montgomery was executed by lethal injection[8] on January 13, 2021, at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. When asked if she had any last words, she replied, "No".[8] She was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. EST.[8]

She became the first female federal prisoner executed in 67 years, and the first woman executed in the United States since Kelly Gissendaner in 2015, and also the first person executed in the United States in 2021.[4][5] Only three other women have been executed by the U.S. federal government: in 1865, Mary Surratt, by hanging; in 1953, Ethel Rosenberg, by electric chair; and, also in 1953, Bonnie Heady by gas chamber.[44]

In popular cultureEdit

The case was described in author Diane Fanning's Baby Be Mine books,[45] and M. William Phelps's Murder in the Heartland.[12] The case featured in an episode of the true crime series Deadly Women titled "Fatal Obsession", in an episode of the true crime series Solved titled "Life and Death", and in the fifth episode of the documentary series No One Saw a Thing that aired on the Sundance Channel on August 29, 2019.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Parker, R. J.; Slate, J. J. (September 14, 2014). "Social Media Monsters: Internet Killers". Rj Parker Publishing, Inc. Retrieved January 13, 2021 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Hollingsworth, Heather (December 22, 2004). "Husband thought stolen baby was his". The Guardian.
  3. ^ a b c Smolinski, Paulina (January 12, 2021). "Federal government conducts its first execution of a woman since 1953". cbsnews.com. CBS News. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Michale Balsamo (October 18, 2020). "Feds to execute a woman for the first time in more than six decades". USA Today. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Oppenheim, Maya (October 18, 2020). "Lisa Montgomery: Woman who cut pregnant woman's body open to become first female prisoner executed in 67 years". The Independent. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Kinzer, Stephen (December 18, 2004). "Baby Found in Kansas Is Thought to Be That of Slain Woman". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  7. ^ "Law Center: Couple allegedly showed off kidnapped baby; Dad united with daughter". CNN. December 20, 2004. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved April 27, 2009. The Internet chat room "Ratter Chatter," a haven for rat terrier lovers in cyberspace, was overwhelmed with responses from its users...
  8. ^ a b c d e Tarm, Michael; Hollingsworth, Heather (January 12, 2021). "US carries out its 1st execution of female inmate since 1953". AP News. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Dwyer, Kevin; Fiorillo, Juré (November 6, 2007). True Stories of Law & Order: SVU: The Real Crimes Behind the Best Episodes of the Hit TV Show. Penguin Group. ISBN 9781101220429.
  10. ^ Hart, James (October 4, 2007). "Bobbie Jo Stinnett's mother testifies about finding her daughter's body". Crime Scene KC. Archived from the original on August 18, 2009. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  11. ^ Sudekum Fisher, Maria (October 4, 2007). "Trial of Baby Cut From Womb Begins". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  12. ^ a b c d Phelps, M. William (2006). Murder in the Heartland. New York City: Kensington Books. ISBN 9780758217240.
  13. ^ a b c Marshall, John (April 8, 2008). "Lisa Montgomery gets death penalty for killing pregnant woman". Southeast Missourian. Archived from the original on November 5, 2013. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  14. ^ "Dad united with kidnapped girl". CNN. December 19, 2004. Archived from the original on October 29, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2007.
  15. ^ Hoppa, Kristin. "First responders remember brutal Skidmore murder". News-Press NOW. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  16. ^ Ricono, Angie (January 13, 2021). "Plans for the execution of Lisa Montgomery proceeding". KCTV Kansas City. Archived from the original on January 16, 2021. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  17. ^ a b c Hollingsworth, Heather (October 10, 2007). "Defendant Accused of Faking Pregnancies". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  18. ^ "Kansas Town Stunned By Kidnap-Murder Case". WKMG-TV. December 19, 2004. Archived from the original on September 22, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2007.
  19. ^ a b c d e Rose, David (November 24, 2016). "Death row: the lawyer who keeps losing". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on July 31, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  20. ^ Associated Press (October 10, 2007). "Accused Killer of Pregnant Kansas Woman Showed Off Extracted Baby as Own". Fox News. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  21. ^ "Baby found alive; woman arrested". CNN. December 18, 2004. Archived from the original on January 20, 2005. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  22. ^ Associated Press (January 13, 2021). "US carries out its 1st execution of female inmate since 1953".
  23. ^ Summers, Chris (October 1, 2007). "The women who kill for babies". BBC News. Archived from the original on July 15, 2019. Retrieved October 26, 2007.
  24. ^ "Jury considers death for convicted fetus thief". NBC News. October 24, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2007.
  25. ^ "United States v. Montgomery, 635 F.3d 1074 (8th Cir. 2011)". Free Law Project. April 5, 2011. Retrieved July 25, 2019. The government's expert, Park Dietz, M.D., agreed that Montgomery suffered from depression, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder but did not diagnose her as suffering from pseudocyesis.
  26. ^ "Doctor cites mental illness in fetus-theft suspect". NBC News. October 17, 2007. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  27. ^ "US v. Montgomery, Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit 2011". Google Scholar. U.S. Court of Appeals. Retrieved August 1, 2017.
  28. ^ a b "US woman guilty of 'womb theft'". BBC News. Archived from the original on June 13, 2017. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  29. ^ "Montgomery Trial: Insanity Argument Called Into Question". St. Joseph News-Press. October 19, 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  30. ^ Hollingsworth, Heather (October 27, 2007). "Pregnant woman's killer deserves death, jury says". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  31. ^ Mears, Bill (April 4, 2008). "Woman gets death sentence in fetus-snatching murder". CNN. Archived from the original on August 14, 2009.
  32. ^ "Lisa M. Montgomery, Petitioner v. United States". Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  33. ^ "Lisa M Montgomery (inmate entry)". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  34. ^ Montaldo, Charles (April 7, 2008). "Lisa Montgomery Sentenced to Death". About.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  35. ^ a b The Associated Press (December 25, 2020). "Judge delays execution of only woman on U.S. death row". NBC News. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  36. ^ Rose, David (November 24, 2016). "Death row: the lawyer who keeps losing". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on July 31, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  37. ^ "Lisa Montgomery to be first female federal inmate executed in 67 years". The Guardian. October 17, 2020. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  38. ^ Balsamo, Michael (November 19, 2020). "Judge halts federal execution after lawyers contract virus". AP News. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  39. ^ Press, The Associated (November 24, 2020). "Execution rescheduled for only woman on federal death row". KMBC. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  40. ^ "Appeals court vacates order delaying Lisa Montgomery's execution". CBS News. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  41. ^ Carrega, Christina (January 12, 2021). "A federal judge has granted a stay of execution for the only woman on federal death row pending a competency hearing". CNN. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  42. ^ Rahman, Khaleda (January 13, 2021). "Lisa Montgomery Is Executed After U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Delay Ruling". Newsweek. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  43. ^ "Lisa Montgomery arrives at Terre Haute execution facility, official confirms". KSNT. January 12, 2012. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  44. ^ http://1.droppdf.com/files/cy6Or/zero-at-the-bone-the-playboy-the-prostit-john-heidenry.pdf
  45. ^ Fanning, Diane (August 29, 2006). Baby Be Mine: The Shocking True Story of a Woman Who Murdered a Pregnant Mother to Steal Her Child. New York City: St. Martin's True Crime. ISBN 978-0312938734. Retrieved July 14, 2019.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 40°17′19″N 95°05′06″W / 40.28874°N 95.08487°W / 40.28874; -95.08487