Murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett

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Memorial to Bobbie Jo Stinnett in downtown Skidmore, Missouri

Bobbie Jo Stinnett (December 4, 1981 – December 16, 2004) was a 23-year-old pregnant woman found brutally slain in her home in Skidmore, Missouri. The accused, Lisa M. Montgomery, then 36, was convicted of strangling Stinnett from behind and then cutting the woman's unborn child, eight months into gestation, from her womb. The child was not found at the scene of the murder.

Investigation results[edit]

Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant with her first child, and her husband ran a dog-breeding business from their residence.[1] Montgomery met Stinnett online in a rat terrier chatroom called "Ratter Chatter."[2]

It is known that Stinnett was expecting the arrival in Skidmore, Missouri of prospective buyers for a terrier at about the time of her murder.[3] Montgomery told Stinnett that she, too, was pregnant. The two women chatted online and exchanged e-mails about their pregnancies.[4] Additionally, there was no sign of forced entry. Authorities now believe that Montgomery, posing as customer "Darlene Fischer", arranged to visit her alleged victim's home on that day. On December 16, 2004, Montgomery entered Stinnett's house, strangled her, and cut the premature infant from her womb.[1]

It is speculated that Montgomery's motivation stemmed from a miscarriage she may have suffered and subsequently concealed from her family. How or whether Montgomery had recently become pregnant is unclear. Montgomery's former husband has since told authorities that she underwent a tubal ligation in 1990, and that she had a history of falsely telling acquaintances that she was pregnant.

The case[edit]

Stinnett was discovered by her mother, Becky Harper, in a pool of blood about an hour after the assault.[5] Harper immediately called 911. Harper described the wounds inflicted upon her daughter as appearing as if her "stomach had exploded".[6] Attempts by paramedics to revive Stinnett were unsuccessful, and she was pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital in Maryville, Missouri.[7]

The next day, December 17, 2004, Montgomery was arrested at her farmhouse in Melvern, Kansas where the newborn had been claimed as her own, and was recovered.[8] The day-old baby, later named Victoria Jo Stinnett, was returned to her father, Zeb Stinnett.[9] The quick recovery and capture was attributed to, in part, the use of computer forensics, which tracked Montgomery and Stinnett's online communication with one another. Both bred rat terriers and may have attended dog shows together. The investigation was also aided by the issuance of an AMBER alert to enlist the public's help, DNA testing to confirm the infant's identity, and the enormous amount of media attention.

The perpetrator[edit]

Lisa Montgomery mugshot

Montgomery was born February 27, 1968,[10] and resided in Melvern, Kansas, at the time of the murder.[11] Montgomery was raised in a "chaotic" home where she was raped by her stepfather for many years.[12] She sought escape mentally by drinking alcohol.[13] When Montgomery was 14, her mother discovered the abuse, but reacted by threatening her daughter with a gun.[13] Montgomery tried to escape this situation by marrying at the age of 18, but both this marriage and a subsequent marriage resulted in further abuse.[13]

Montgomery had four children by 1990, when she underwent a tubal ligation.[14] Montgomery falsely claimed to be pregnant several times after the procedure, according to both her first and second spouses.[14]

Trial and ruling[edit]

Montgomery was charged with the federal offense of "kidnapping resulting in death",[15] a crime established by the Federal Kidnapping Act of 1932,[7] and described in Title 18 of the United States Code. If convicted, Montgomery faced a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty.[7]

At a pre-trial hearing, a neuropsychologist testified that head injuries, which she had sustained some years before, could have damaged the part of the brain which controls aggression.[16] 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.[17]

According to The Guardian newspaper, Duchardt attempted to follow this line of defense only one week before the trial began, after being forced to abandon a contradictory argument that Bobbie Jo Stinnet was murdered by Montgomery's brother Tommy, as Tommy had an alibi. As a result, the Montgomery family refused to co-operate with Duchardt and describe Lisa's unfavorable background to the jury.[13]

V. S. Ramachandran gave expert testimony that Montgomery had severe pseudocyesis delusion.[18] According to Ramachandran, Montgomery's childhood sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder predisposed her to pseudocyesis. Ramachandran testified that Montgomery's stories about her actions fluctuated because her delusional state fluctuated. Ramachandran stated that Montgomery had a severe mental disease or defect when she committed the crime and that she was unable to appreciate the nature and quality of her acts.[19] Federal prosecutor Roseann Ketchmark characterized Ramachandran's theory linking the murder/kidnapping to pseudocyesis as "voodoo science."[20]

Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz testified for the prosecution. Dietz had worked with prosecutors on other high-profile cases, including those of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and bomber Ted Kaczynski, as well as two women, Andrea Yates and Susan Smith, who had killed their own children. Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity.[21] Dietz testified that Montgomery did not have pseudocyesis and dismissed Ramachandran's theory as outrageous.[22]

On October 22, 2007, jurors found Montgomery guilty.[23] On October 26, the jury recommended a death sentence.[24] Judge Gary A. Fenner formally sentenced Montgomery to death.[8] On April 4, 2008, a judge upheld the jury's recommendation for death.[25]

However, Duchardt's aforementioned pseudocyesis defense, Montgomery's unfavorable background and separate diagnoses of mental illness were not fully revealed to the jury until after her conviction, by her appeals team. This led critics, including the Guardian journalist David Rose, to argue that Duchardt provided an incompetent legal defense for Montgomery.[13] Judge Fenner required Duchardt to be cross-examined in November 2016. Duchardt rejected all criticism and defended his conduct.[26]

Aftermath[edit]

On March 19, 2012, the US Supreme Court denied Lisa Montgomery's certiorari petition.[27] Montgomery, who is registered for the Federal Bureau of Prisons under number 11072-031, is currently incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas where she will remain indefinitely.[28][29] If sentence is carried out, she would become the second woman to be executed by the Federal Government since Ethel Rosenberg for espionage at Sing Sing Prison in New York State on June 19, 1953. [30]

Experts who examined Montgomery post-conviction concluded that by the time of her crime she had long been living with psychosis, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorders. Montgomery falsely claimed to be pregnant several times after the procedure, according to both her first and second spouses.[14][13] She was often disassociated from reality and had permanent brain damage from numerous beatings at the hands of her parents.[13]

Popular culture[edit]

The case was described in the books, Baby Be Mine, by author Diane Fanning;[31] and Murder in the Heartland by M. William Phelps.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Kinzer, Stephen (2004-12-18). "Baby Found in Kansas Is Thought to Be That of Slain Woman". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  2. ^ "Law Center: Couple allegedly showed off kidnapped baby; Dad united with daughter". [CNN]. December 20, 2004. 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...
  3. ^ Dwyer, Kevin; Fiorillo, Juré (2007-11-06). True Stories of Law & Order: SVU: The Real Crimes Behind the Best Episodes of the Hit TV Show. Penguin. ISBN 9781101220429.
  4. ^ True Stories of Law & Order: SVU (page 155) by Kevin Dwyer and Juré Fiorillo. (Berkley, 2006. ISBN 0-425-21735-3)
  5. ^ "Montgomery trial: Stinnett's mother testifies about finding daughter's body". kansas. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  6. ^ "Trial of Baby Cut From Womb Begins". ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  7. ^ a b c Phelps, M. William (2006). Murder in the Heartland. Kensington Books. ISBN 9780758217240.
  8. ^ a b Marshall, John (2008-04-08). "Lisa Montgomery gets death penalty for killing pregnant woman". Associated Press at the Southeast Missourian. Retrieved 2016-08-16.
  9. ^ "Dad united with kidnapped girl". cnn.com. 2004-12-19. Archived from the original on 2007-10-29. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
  10. ^ Hollingsworth, Heather (2007-10-10). "Defendant Accused of Faking Pregnancies". ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  11. ^ "Kansas Town Stunned By Kidnap-Murder Case". local6.com. 2004-12-19. Archived from the original on September 22, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
  12. ^ Rose, David (2016-11-24). "Death row: the lawyer who keeps losing". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Rose, David (2016-11-24). "Death row: the lawyer who keeps losing". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  14. ^ a b c HOLLINGSWORTH, HEATHER (2007-10-10). "Defendant Accused of Faking Pregnancies". ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  15. ^ "Lisa Montgomery gets death penalty for killing pregnant woman". seMissourian.com. 2008-04-04. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  16. ^ Summers, Chris (2007-10-01). "The women who kill for babies". BBC. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
  17. ^ "Jury considers death for convicted fetus thief". MSNBC. 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
  18. ^ "Doctor cites mental illness in fetus-theft suspect". msnbc.com. 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  19. ^ "US v. Montgomery, Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit 2011". Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  20. ^ BBC News, One-Minute World News, Tuesday, 23 October 2007
  21. ^ Park Dietz Associates – In The News
  22. ^ News-Press web site article
  23. ^ "US woman guilty of 'womb theft'". 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  24. ^ "Jury: Lisa Montgomery should be executed". kansascity.com. 2007-10-26. Archived from the original on 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
  25. ^ Bill Mears. Woman gets death sentence in fetus-snatching murder. CNN, 2008-04-04.
  26. ^ Rose, David (24 November 2016). "Death row: the lawyer who keeps losing". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  27. ^ "US Supreme Court denies certiorari petition.
  28. ^ "Lisa M Montgomery" (inmate entry), in the "Find an Inmate" inmate locator database, Federal Bureau of Prisons; accessible via search for BOP Register Number 11072-031. Retrieved 2017-09-19.
  29. ^ Montaldo, Charles. "Lisa Montgomery Sentenced to Death." About.com. Monday April 7, 2008. Retrieved on October 3, 2010. Aileen Woernous 2002.
  30. ^ Montaldo, Charles. "Lisa Montgomery Sentenced to Death." About.com. Monday April 7, 2008. Retrieved on October 3, 2010. Aileen Woernous 2002.
  31. ^ Baby Be Mine: The Shocking True Story of a Woman Who Murdered a Pregnant Mother to Steal Her Child, by Diane Fanning, (2006), accessed June 2018

External links[edit]