KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A federal grand jury issued an indictment Wednesday that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty against a Kansas woman accused of killing an expectant mother and stealing her unborn child.
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek a death sentence for Lisa Montgomery (search), 36, of Melvern, Kan., who was indicted on a single count of kidnapping resulting in death. But, said U.S. Attorney Todd Graves (search), "Clearly, in this document, we have protected that option."
Montgomery is charged with driving to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore on Dec. 16, strangling the eight-months-pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett (search) and cutting the baby from her womb.
Stinnett, 23, was found by her mother in a pool of blood, her midsection sliced open. Authorities have said that on the day of the killing, Montgomery called her husband from Topeka, Kan., and told him she had just delivered a baby girl. The girl survived the attack and is at home with her father.
Graves said Wednesday that Montgomery would be arraigned sometime during the next week. The arraignment will be the first opportunity for Montgomery, who is being held at a federal detention center in Leavenworth, Kan., to enter a plea in the case.
Wednesday's indictment accuses Montgomery of strangling Stinnett with a rope, then cutting the baby from her womb with a kitchen knife. It says Montgomery killed Stinnett "in an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner."
Graves said he will make a recommendation to a Department of Justice committee about whether to pursue the death penalty. That group will then make its own recommendation to the U.S. Attorney General's office.
That process usually takes several months to complete, Graves said.
He said he doesn't expect to file any more charges against Montgomery, though he said he would not rule out charges against other people involved the case.
Montgomery and Stinnett became acquainted through a community of rat terrier dog breeders. They met at least once, at a dog show in Abilene, Kan., several months before Stinnett's death.
The two also occasionally communicated through an Internet message board dedicated to rat terrier dogs.
Authorities said Montgomery, posing as a woman named Darlene Fischer, sought directions to Stinnett's home through the message board on the day before Stinnett's death. Acting on a tip, investigators traced that message back to Montgomery's computer in Kansas.
Prosecutors have said Montgomery confessed to the crime. Graves declined to discuss whether he thinks Montgomery will use an insanity defense at her trial.