Woman accused of stealing baby appears in court

Lisa Montgomery charged with kidnapping resulting in death

Monday, December 20, 2004 Posted: 11:04 PM EST (0404 GMT)

Lisa Montgomery appeared in court, where the charges against her were read, on Monday.

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (CNN) -- Lisa Montgomery, accused of strangling a 23-year-old Missouri woman and cutting the fetus out of her womb, sat motionless Monday as a judge read the charge against her in U.S. District Court.

Montgomery, who was arrested in Kansas, has two federally appointed defenders, who answered all questions at her initial court appearance. Montgomery never looked up from the federal complaint in front of her during the proceedings.

Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City, Missouri, said Montgomery's next federal court appearance is set for 9:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. ET) Thursday in Kansas City, Kansas.

Afterward, Montgomery, of Melvern, Kansas, will be transferred to Missouri, where she is to stand trial, he said.

An identity hearing, held to confirm that the right woman was arrested and charged, also will be continued Thursday, Ledford said.

Montgomery was to be moved from the Wyandotte County jail in Kansas City, Kansas, to a federal detention center in Leavenworth, Kansas, which is used by both Kansas and Missouri, Ledford said.

Montgomery, a 36-year-old mother of two high-school age children, faces a federal charge of kidnapping resulting in death, which carries possible sentences of life in prison or death if she is convicted.

U.S. Attorney Todd Graves said Monday that the decision on what penalty to pursue would come much later.

"In this district, we have a history of seeking the death penalty in appropriate cases," Graves said. "It's not something we shy away from, but we're still a ways away from that decision."

Graves said authorities will proceed with the case in Missouri.

"We have the state line very close by, but it's charged on the Missouri side," Graves said. "The main body of what took place was on the Missouri side."

Lisa Montgomery is accused of strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett at Stinnett's home in Skidmore, Missouri, and cutting her fetus from her body.

The baby, now named Victoria Jo, was recovered and united with her father, Zeb Stinnett, in a hospital in Topeka, Kansas, after Montgomery was arrested Friday night.

The infant was released Monday evening from Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka, according to the hospital's Web site. At the request of the family, the hospital said, no further information will be released.

Relatives of both the victim and the suspect attended the hearing Monday.

Montgomery's husband, Kevin Montgomery, told reporters outside the courthouse that he hoped the Stinnett family was getting "as much support from their church and community as I am."

Choking back tears, Montgomery said his heart was broken for the Stinnett family as well as his own.

"It's a long road that we've got to go down now," he said. "Families are mighty precious to me and I hope they are to him. Zeb and Victoria Jo have got a rough road to go down."

Two funds, one for Victoria Jo and one for her mother, are listed on the hospital's Web site.

A wake and funeral service for Stinnett will be held Tuesday at 2 p.m. (3 p.m. ET) in Maryville, Missouri, just north of Skidmore, and are closed to media and the public, the funeral director said. The burial is open to the public, he said.

Mother found dead Thursday

On Thursday afternoon, Stinnett's mother found her daughter dead in a pool of blood in her home and called 911, saying it looked "as though her daughter's stomach had exploded," according to an FBI affidavit.

Investigators determined Stinnett's uterus had been cut laterally, the fetus removed and the umbilical cord cut, the affidavit said.

Once in custody, an FBI affidavit alleges, Montgomery "confessed to having strangled Stinnett and removing the fetus. Lisa Montgomery further admitted the baby she had was Stinnett's baby and that she had lied to her husband about giving birth to a child."

Graves said Montgomery met Stinnett through an Internet chat room, with Montgomery showing interest in a dog that Stinnett had offered for sale. Montgomery traveled to Skidmore in northwestern Missouri on Thursday, police said.

FBI Special Agent Jeff Lanza said that computer files were an integral part of the investigation.

"There were actual contacts we were able to pick up from the suspect's computer," he said.

Lanza said that investigators believe Montgomery likely acted alone.

"I don't anticipate additional charges in the near future," Lanza said. "She's the only one charged."

Graves said Montgomery's husband had been questioned early on but was "considered innocent."

Graves and Lanza declined to discuss possible motives.

Two towns in shock

Residents in Montgomery's hometown of Melvern said Saturday that the woman and her husband had showed the infant to people.

The Rev. Mike Wheatly, a local pastor, said the Montgomerys said they had named the baby Abigail. He said Lisa Montgomery told him she had given birth to the child at a birthing center in Topeka.

Wheatly said he and others -- including Montgomery's husband -- believed she had been pregnant and was due in December.

"There was no reason to suspect anything," Wheatly said, adding that her husband, Kevin Montgomery, had told him he "felt the baby kick." (Full story)

But, he said, the Montgomerys "probably didn't see each other very much" because of their work schedules. Kevin Montgomery, he said, was a regular attendee at Wheatly's church, "where he was raised," but "Lisa, the last time we saw her before the other day, was October."

"We felt betrayed. We were angry," Wheatly said. "But most of all, we're very, very, very sad."

Sheriff Ben Espey of Nodaway County, Missouri, said Montgomery had a miscarriage sometime this year. Espey said she was six months pregnant when she miscarried.

But Graves said investigators weren't certain she had had a miscarriage.

The crime shocked Skidmore, Stinnett's hometown of about 300 people, with some residents shuttering their doors, saying they no longer felt safe. After Stinnett's body was found, police issued an Amber Alert to help find the infant.

"It's very hard for me to accept this," Espey said. "Nobody here could ever perceive this taking place -- to have a fetus taken out of someone's womb and then doing an Amber Alert to try to find a child."

CNN's Jonathan Freed and Carlos Flores contributed to this report.