Lisa Montgomery gets death penalty for killing pregnant woman

Friday, April 4, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Lisa Montgomery was sentenced to death Friday for killing a Missouri mother-to-be and cutting the baby from the woman's womb.

U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner in Kansas City handed down the sentence after a jury recommended the death penalty for Montgomery in the 2004 slaying of Bobbie Jo Stinnett of Skidmore, in northwest Missouri.

Montgomery becomes the third woman on federal death row.

"I hope that today's sentence will bring some measure of closure to the family of Bobbie Jo Stinnett," U.S. Attorney John Wood said in a statement. "Seeking the ultimate penalty is not something we take lightly, but this outcome serves the cause of justice and honors the memory of Bobbie Jo Stinnett."

Montgomery was convicted in October of kidnapping resulting in death in the Dec. 16, 2004, killing of Stinnett. The 40-year-old from Melvern was arrested at her farmhouse a day after showing off Stinnett's baby as her own.

Prosecutors presented evidence during the trial that Montgomery strangled Stinnett with a rope, then used a kitchen knife to cut her infant daughter from the womb. Stinnett was eight months pregnant at the time.

The jury rejected claims from Montgomery's attorney, Fred Duchardt, that she should be spared the death penalty because sexual abuse during her childhood led to mental illness. Duchardt raised about 20 issues in his motion for a new trial -- one that was denied by Fenner -- and said he plans to appeal the case.

"The thing that happened here is horrible and we can't say anything differently about that and wouldn't even try, but what we've tried to express to everybody who would listen is just the sweet person she is," Duchardt said.

Montgomery's husband, Kevin, and Stinnett's mother, Becky Harper, attended the hearing with other family members, but neither spoke with reporters after leaving the courtroom.

Montgomery declined Fenner's offer to speak before her sentencing and sat quietly as Fenner announced the death sentence.

"There's so much in the (court) tapes about Lisa's sorrow about what happened, but the trouble with her mental condition is that she can't even go back there, can't even resurrect those memories of what happened," Duchardt said.

Before sentencing, Duchardt asked Fenner to include information about Montgomery's abuse and medical treatment in documents sent to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Department of Justice spokesman Don Ledford said Montgomery will likely be sent to the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, a women's correctional facility that has medical services for inmates.

"The one good thing that's happened in all of this for Lisa is that she's on medications to deal with her mental-health issues," Duchardt said. "The doctors who are treating her have had her on a medication regimen that has done wonders."

Montgomery is just the third woman to be sentenced to federal death row since 1972, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling led to an overhaul of death-penalty statues across the country.

Since 1927, only two women have been executed under the federal system, both in 1953.

Ethel Rosenberg was the first, sent to the electric chair after her and husband Julius, were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

Bonnie Heady was sent to the gas chamber with her lover Carl Hall for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Kansas City.

Mary Surratt also was hanged by the U.S. Government in 1865 for her involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

As of Dec. 31, 2007, there were 51 women on death row in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center. They represent less than 2 percent of the roughly 3,350 inmates on death row.

There have been 50 women executed in the U.S. over the past 100 years, the most recent being Francis Newton by lethal injection in Texas on Sept. 15, 2005, according to the death penalty center.

"Women rarely get the death penalty in murder cases because it usually involves someone they know or is some kind of domestic issue," said Richard Dieter, spokesman for the Death Penalty Information Center. "It usually has to be something exceptional for them to get the death penalty."

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