Slain mom/stolen fetus trial begins

Lisa Montgomery (left) and the woman she is accused of killing, Bobbie Jo Stinnett
Lisa Montgomery (left) and the woman she is accused of killing, Bobbie Jo Stinnett

KANSAS CITY, Mo.,  (AP)

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A pregnant woman whose 8-month-old fetus was crudely cut from her womb tried to defend herself from her attacker before she was strangled, a medical examiner testified Friday.

In the second day of testimony in the federal trial of Lisa Montgomery, coroner Miguel Laboy showed jurors several photographs taken during the autopsy of Bobbie Jo Stinnett.

The photos showed what Laboy called defensive wounds on her hands, face and elbows. Jurors also saw graphic photos of where the baby was cut from Stinnett's body.

Montgomery, 39, is accused of strangling Stinnett, 23, on Dec. 16, 2004 and using a kitchen knife to cut the baby from her womb. The baby, Victoria Jo Stinnett, survived and is now almost 3 years old.

Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if Montgomery is convicted. The trial is expected to take at least three weeks.

Defense attorney Frederick Duchardt Jr. told the jury Thursday the defense would not deny Montgomery's involvement in Stinnett's death. But he said Montgomery suffered from mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by years of abuse as a teen.

Duchardt also told the jury in his opening statement that Montgomery has a condition called pseudocyesis, in which a woman falsely believes she is pregnant and can exhibit some of the outward signs of pregnancy.

It was those mental illnesses, compounded by a brewing custody battle with her former husband over their four children, that pushed Montgomery to killing Stinnett, Duchardt said.

Federal prosecutor Matt J. Whitworth said in his opening statement that Montgomery planned the crime in advance. He depicted a desperate struggle between Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and Montgomery, citing testimony from law enforcement officers, medical personnel, neighbors and family.

"This defendant spent a great deal of time planning this crime," Whitworth said as he detailed Montgomery's computer searches on Web sites about how to perform Caesarean sections and home births.

Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey, the first law enforcement officer to respond to an emergency call at Stinnett's home, testified as the prosecution began presenting its case Thursday. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if Montgomery is convicted.

"You could see swirls in the floor in the blood, showing there was a struggle," he said. "bobbie jo had jagged wounds on her lower abdomen. I noticed her stomach had been jaggedly cut open and some intestines were protruding from the body."

On cross-examination, however, the defense team sought to whittle away at the idea that Montgomery and Stinnett fought after Montgomery had been cut open.

Espey acknowledged that his original report on the case said Stinnett was found lying "in a pool of blood" and did not mention patterns in the blood that would have suggested a long fight between Stinnett and Montgomery.

Defense attorney John O'connor said two emergency workers who responded to the scene said they could have contributed to blood being splashed over the floor.

"It appeared to be a struggle," O'connor said, "but in fact the struggle was the emergency workers trying to save Bobbie Jo's life."

Police tracked down Montgomery and the baby the next day in Melvern through e-mails Montgomery had sent Stinnett about buying a rat terrier, which Stinnett and her husband raised at their Skidmore home in northwest Missouri.

Posted by LS

CBS and Associated Press contributed to this report.