A new documentary from the WFIU/WTIU news team explores the case of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row.
“A Mother’s Justice: The Trials of Lisa Montgomery” airs at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 7 on WFIU Public Radio and at 9:30 p.m. on WTIU Public Television.
Montgomery is one of 10 federal inmates the Trump administration has scheduled for execution this year. The U.S. hasn’t executed a woman since 1953. This documentary explores all sides of Montgomery’s case.
In December 2004, Montgomery strangled a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett in Skidmore, Missouri. Then she sliced through the woman’s skin and removed her baby before fleeing.
The WFIU/WTIU News team retraces each step — from inside Bobbie Jo Stinnett’s home to the Federal Courthouse where a jury sentenced Montgomery to die by lethal injection.
“It’s probably one of the worst things I’d seen done to a human,” said Randy Strong, one of two sheriff’s deputies who recovered Stinnett’s baby and interrogated Montgomery. He recounts orders from the local sheriff to drive across state lines and retrieve the baby “with or without consent” from FBI agents staking out Montgomery’s home.
The documentary follows Strong’s route — 176 miles from the crime scene — to the Melvern, Kansas, home where Montgomery planned to raise the baby girl as her own. Along the way, the WFIU/WTIU News team speaks to friends of Stinnett as well as strangers, who all believe Montgomery deserves to die.
The documentary also examines another side to Montgomery’s story, one that her lawyers and family members believe never got the attention it deserved during trial. The WFIU/WTIU News team seeks to determine how Montgomery’s history of abuse might have contributed to her decision to target a pregnant woman and abduct her baby.
“There are varying degrees of child abuse. But hers appeared so extreme to me,” said Jan Vogelsong, a forensic psychologist who spent months studying a history of “unrelenting abuse” during Montgomery’s childhood.
Evidence documented years before Bobbie Jo’s murder suggests Montgomery spent the formative years of her life being brutally raped and tortured. Psychologists compare Montgomery’s childhood to the experiences of soldiers captured behind enemy lines.
Montgomery’s family also has a history of child kidnapping — including by Lisa’s own mother — leading another expert to conclude Montgomery likely viewed seizing a child as a method of defense against her ex-husband’s plans to take her real children.
All likely contributed to her delusional belief leading up to Dec. 16, 2004, that she had to find a baby at all costs — to protect herself and her family.
Friends and family of Bobbie Jo Stinnett see nothing but excuses in the experts’ explanations. However, Montgomery’s family continues to support her. The documentary looks at how Montgomery’s family will be impacted by her upcoming execution.