Woman may go to death row

Monday, April 21, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against a female defendant charged in a woman's brutal stabbing death three years ago.

If found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, 23-year-old Charaty White would be only the sixth woman condemned since Missouri reinstated capital punishment in 1977.

None is left on a death row of 64 men. Four of the women got sentence reductions, and one committed suicide in jail.

Missouri did execute one woman in its gas chamber in Jefferson City, in 1953, but she was not convicted of any state charge. Bonnie Heady was put to death by arrangement with federal officials for the kidnapping and slaying of 6-year-old Bobby Greenlease in Kansas City.

In the present case, authorities said Danielle Montgomery, 19, died May 4, 2000, of stab wounds and was beaten and burned with cigarettes. She had been scheduled to testify against her boyfriend in a murder case.

They said that Montgomery's boyfriend, Charles Liston, then in jail awaiting trial in a drug-related homicide, told White and her co-defendants to kill Montgomery to keep her from testifying against him.

All three women, including White, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for their testimony against Liston.

But at Liston's trial last year, White announced from the witness stand that she wanted a better deal. Prosecutors responded by refiling a first-degree murder charge against her and signaling their intent to seek the death penalty.

Scott Decker, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said many homicides committed by women result from fights with husbands or boyfriends. Such violence, Decker noted, rarely rises to an "aggravating circumstance" required for a death penalty.

As of Jan. 1, there were 52 women on death rows in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The number amounted to 1.4 percent of the total death row population of nearly 3,700, and about 0.1 percent of the approximately 50,000 women imprisoned.

The center, a nonprofit organization that analyzes death penalty issues, said about 40 women have been executed in the United States over the past 100 years.

Only one woman from St. Louis has been sentenced to death under the modern law.

Maria Isa and her husband, Zein, murdered their daughter, Palestina, 16, in 1989 in a crime caught on tape by an FBI recorder planted in their apartment in an anti-terror investigation. She was later resentenced to life in prison.

Another woman condemned from Missouri in a high-profile case was Faye Copeland, 81, convicted of helping her husband murder five transients on their farm near Chillicothe. A federal court overturned her death penalty in 1999. She has since been paroled and lives in a nursing home.

Courts also overturned the death sentences of two other women. The remaining woman sentenced to death, Nila Wacaser, committed suicide in jail in 1992, just after she was found guilty a second time of murdering her son in Platte City.

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