The following case is an American federal case. While the death penalty is rare, it remains a legal sentence for certain federal crimes. The following case discusses a woman who has received the legal sentence of the death penalty for the crime of kidnapping resulting in death. This woman suffered years of domestic violence coupled with gross neglect from social services that should have intervened. While the death penalty has been abolished for offences under the Canadian Criminal Code since 1976, we encourage our Canadian readers to reflect on the ways that victims of domestic violence experience similar forms of neglect in Canada. While reading this summary, Canadian readers should be aware that about half of the prisoners in Canada have experienced abuse during their childhood.
Lisa Montgomery (United States v. Lisa Montgomery)
**Content Warning** This summary mentions sexual abuse and violence.
Execution Date: January 12, 2021
Offence: Kidnapping resulting in Death contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)
In the Spring of 2004, Lisa Montgomery learned that her acquaintance, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, was expecting a baby. Lisa began telling her friends and family that she was also pregnant, but unbeknownst to them, Lisa had undergone a sterilization procedure many years before and could not be pregnant. Later that year in December, Lisa contacted Bobbie Jo using a fake profile to purchase a puppy Bobbie Jo was selling. Lisa drove from Kansas to Missouri to pick it up and brought a kitchen knife and a white cord in her jacket pocket. After playing with the puppies, Lisa strangled Bobbie Jo until she lost consciousness and then began cutting into Bobbie Jo’s abdomen. At that point, Bobbie Jo awoke and Lisa strangled her again, this time to death. She then removed the baby from Bobbie Jo’s womb and left. Lisa called her husband some blocks away, told him that she had gone into labour and delivered a baby, and asked him to come pick her up. They returned home, and the next day, police arrived to question Lisa about the death of Bobbie Jo. They ended up taking Lisa to the police station where she confessed to the murder. The baby was unharmed and returned to its father.
Lisa suffered abuse from almost every person that was supposed to be her family from a young age. Her mother abused her from the time she was an infant, keeping her in a highchair for long hours and taping her mouth. Her step-father sexually abused her from the age of 13, keeping her in a shed he built outside of the home, and allowing his friends to sexually assault her. Her mother was aware of this and received money from it so that she could pay the bills. Lisa married her 25-year-old stepbrother, Carl Boman, at the age of 18 and further sexual assault ensued. Lisa had 4 children consecutively with Carl before undergoing a secret sterilization procedure and later divorcing Carl. When she remarried Kevin Montgomery, the sexual violence continued. Leading up to the crime, her ex-husband Carl was seeking custody of their children as a result of her inability to properly take care of them.
Likely Effects of Abuse:
· 9/10 on Adverse Childhood Experiences Test: indicates the highest level of torture in childhood
· 48/100 on Global Assessment of Functioning: indicates severe impairment in daily activities
· MRI scans demonstrating brain damage
· PET scans indicating brain dysfunction
· Clinical Diagnoses: depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, PTSD, dissociative disorder, psychosis, traumatic brain injury and possible fetal alcohol syndrome
How the System failed Lisa:
· When Lisa was 4, her older sister was taken away to foster care after it was discovered that she had been raped - no governmental agency checked on Lisa or her siblings.
· When teachers and staff at Lisa’s school suspected Lisa suffered emotional trauma - they didn’t contact anyone.
· When Lisa confided in her cousin, David Kidwell, a policeman in Kansas, that she was being sexually abused by her stepfather - he did not speak up or tell anyone.
· When Lisa (17) testified at her mother’s divorce trial that her stepfather sexually abused her - a social worker found the testimony to be credible and the file was given to the District Attorney’s Office and no one followed up.
Lisa’s case is ridden with systemic issues from start to finish. As a child, she was a victim of domestic violence. As a girl, she was subject to gender-based abuse. Numerous governmental agencies were informed and failed to intervene. Intervention could have happened as early as when Lisa was four-years-old when her older sister was taken away to foster care, to many other times throughout the rest of her life.
Finally, Lisa suffered the combination of all of these societal issues through the inadequate representation she received at her trial. Her male legal team did not present any of Lisa’s history of sexual and domestic abuse. Further, the district court didn’t allow defence counsel to show any of the MRI or PET scans of her brain to the jury.
There has never been any doubt about Lisa’s culpability for the horrendous crime that she committed. However, there is undoubtedly severe repercussions that Lisa suffered from the lifetime of sexual and domestic abuse. Is it just for the same system that failed to stop the abuse that made Lisa who she is today, to impose the death penalty?
 Bodkin, Pivnick. “History of Childhood Abuse in Populations Incarcerated in Canada: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” American journal of public health (1971) 109, no. 3 (March 2019): e1–e11.