The prosecution and defense finished their opening statements this morning in the trial of Lisa Montgomery, a Melvern, Kan., woman accused of killing a Skidmore, Mo., mother-to-be and stealing the child from her womb in late 2004.
Bobbie Jo Stinnett died, but her daughter Victoria Jo survived. Montgomery allegedly took the baby back to Kansas and tried to pass her off as her own until the authorities arrested Montgomery.
Montgomery is charged with kidnapping resulting in death, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Her trial is being held at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City.
A wealth of forensic evidence – including a kitchen knife that has both women’s DNA on it – ties Montgomery to the crime scene, prosecutors said.
In an hourlong opening statement, Montgomery's lead defense lawyer, Fred Duchardt, acknowledged that his client killed Stinnett and kidnapped baby Victoria Jo. He urged jurors, however to focus on the "why" of the crime, rather than how it happened.
Duchardt said defense experts will testify that Montgomery suffered from pseudocyesis, a false belief of being pregnant. That condition, and the "brutal and sadistic" treatment she suffered as a child at the hands of a step-father, all were at play in Montgomery's mind when she went to Stinnett's home to look at a dog.
"Lisa went for the puppy and something horrible happened after that," Duchardt said.
During the opening statement, prosecutors challenged the idea of the insanity defense and pointed to Montgomery’s preparations before the slaying, such as ordering a home-birthing kit and using the Internet to look up directions to Stinnett’s house.
The day after the abduction, Montgomery reportedly went around her town and showed off the new baby, whom she called Abigail. The prosecution says it plans to call witnesses who will testify that Montgomery was able to hold normal conversations and appeared to act rationally.
The prosecution alleged that Montgomery was afraid of losing custody of her children and their child-support payments. Her ex-husband was threatening to reveal that Montgomery’s latest pregnancy – which she had been reporting to several friends and relatives – was a hoax.
Duchardt said Montgomery was not acting from a financial motive. Rather, the fear of losing her children added to her psychological stress.