When Becky Harper discovered the body of her pregnant daughter, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, it looked like the young woman’s belly had exploded, Harper testified Thursday in federal court.
Lisa Montgomery, 39, of Melvern, Kan., is on trial at the federal courthouse in Kansas City for not only killing Stinnett in late 2004 in Skidmore, Mo., but cutting Stinnett’s unborn baby from her stomach. That child, Victoria Jo, was later safely recovered and is now almost 3 years old.
Montgomery faces the death penalty. Her defense lawyers argue that she suffered a mental illness that prevented her from understanding the wrongness of her actions.
On Thursday afternoon, the prosecution introduced a series of witnesses and a set of gruesome photographs to describe the crime scene. The first two witnesses were Stinnett’s husband, Zeb, and her mother, Harper.
Harper worked at a convenience store a couple of blocks from her daughter’s house in Skidmore. She called Stinnett about 2:30 p.m. that afternoon and asked for a ride after her shift ended. Bobbie Jo said she would, but had to hang up because she had an appointment with a customer interested in buying one of Stinnett’s dogs.
Stinnett, eight months pregnant, was on maternity leave, but she was still working on her side business raising rat terriers.
About an hour after the call, Stinnett hadn’t shown up. Harper tried calling the house. She only got the answering machine.
She walked to the Stinnett home. Nobody answered the door, so Harper hollered inside and, not hearing a response, entered the house. She found her daughter lying on the floor in a back room. It looked like Bobbie Jo’s belly had exploded, she said.
“There was blood everywhere … she was lying on the floor,” said Harper, who fought tears during her testimony.
She called 911 and, with help from dispatchers, started doing CPR on her daughter until the Nodaway County sheriff arrived. One of the first things she told him, Sheriff Ben Espey testified, is that Stinnett’s baby was missing.
Zeb Stinnett, Bobbie Jo’s husband, learned what was happening just as he was getting off work in Maryville, when he saw family members waiting for him next to his vehicle.
He had started dating Bobbie Jo when they were in high school. The last time he saw her was the morning of her death, as he was leaving for work. She had told him the day before that a woman was going to stop and look at some of her dogs.
That woman, prosecutors said, was Lisa Montgomery, who reportedly used an alias to set up an appointment with Bobbie Jo Stinnett.
Zeb Stinnett testified that he had met Montgomery earlier that year at a dog show in Abilene that he and Bobbie Jo attended. Montgomery had kept to herself and seemed “self-absorbed,” he said.
Courtroom sketch via The AP