Crime News

Woman Who Strangled Expectant Mother, Cut Fetus From Womb Is Set To Be First Female Inmate Executed By Feds In Nearly 70 Years

In 2004, Lisa Montgomery killed 23-year-old Barbara Jo Stinnett and cut her child from her womb with a kitchen knife. However, Montgomery's lawyers say her upcoming execution is a "profound injustice," citing her mental illness.

By Dorian Geiger

A Kansas woman convicted of murdering a pregnant 23-year-old and then cutting her open to take her baby, is scheduled to be the first female executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years.

Lisa Montgomery strangled Barbara Jo Stinnett, 23, to death and then sliced the woman open and abducted her child in northwestern Missouri in 2004, according to the Associated Press. She’s scheduled to die by lethal injection on Dec. 8 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Justice Department confirmed last week

Montgomery had posed as a buyer interested in purchasing a puppy from Stinnett. After driving from Kansas to the pregnant woman’s home in Skidmore, Missouri, she strangled the woman until she passed out. Montgomery then used a kitchen knife to extract the woman’s newborn. 

“Montgomery then removed the baby from Stinnett’s body, took the baby with her, and attempted to pass it off as her own,” according to a Justice Department press release. 

Officials described the crime as “heinous.” The 23-year-old was eight-months pregnant at the time of her death. 

Authorities, who later concluded the attack was premeditated, eventually secured a confession from Montgomery. She was sentenced to death in 2007. Montgomery has exhausted all possible appeals. 

“Her conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and her request for collateral relief was rejected by every court that considered it,” the press release added.  

However, Montgomery’s lawyers called her scheduled execution a “profound injustice,” citing chronic mental illness stemming from child abuse,

“Few human beings have lived through the kind of torture and trauma that was inflicted on Lisa Montgomery by her mentally ill, alcoholic mother,” Kelley Henry told in a statement. 

Henry, who alleged Montgomery was sex-trafficked and gang-raped by several men as a child, stated her client’s “psychosis” has been exacerbated by “a genetic predisposition to mental illness inherited from both sides of her family.” The woman’s attorney added she is regularly administered a spectrum of antipsychotic medication. 

“In the grip of her mental illness, Lisa committed a terrible crime,” Henry said. “Yet she immediately expressed profound remorse and was willing to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence with no possibility of release.”

Henry also blamed Montgomery’s failed appeals on an “incompetent” attorney who previously represented her.

Death penalty experts also criticized the Justice Department's decision to proceed with Montgomery's execution.

“The scheduled execution of Lisa Montgomery is another example of the administration’s lack of empathy and utter disregard for fair process," Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told "You would have to be out of your mind to commit the killing in this case. ... We shouldn’t be executing the seriously mentally ill or those in our society who have experienced this type of relentless trauma and abuse."

This year has seen an "unprecedented" number of federal executions, Dunham said. Meanwhile, state executions are at a 37-year low, he noted.

"Juries have imposed fewer new death sentences than in any year since the death penalty resumed in the U.S. in the 1970s," he said.

In the past 56 years, federal authorities had put only three inmates to death, the Associated Press reported. Montgomery, however, is the ninth federal prisoner scheduled for execution since the Department of Justice resumed capital punishment in July after a roughly two-decade hiatus

In July, shortly before white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee was set to be put to death, an Indiana judge momentarily halted the scheduled execution following concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide. The decision was overturned and Lee was later executed. 

Montgomery could become the first woman prisoner put to death since Bonnie Heady, who in 1953, was convicted of abducting and killing the 6-year-old son of a wealthy car dealer in Missouri.