Justice, Missouri Style

Two murderers were sentenced in federal courts in Missouri yeterday.

Lisa Montgomery got the death penalty in federal court. She will be the third woman on federal death row. Her crime: She cut the fetus out of a woman who was 8 months pregnant. She wanted the baby because she had told her husband she was pregnant and felt she had to produce one. She is mentally ill, likely a result of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. The baby lived and is healthy, and has been returned to the family.

Other women on federal death row:

Since 1927, only two women have been executed under the federal system, both in 1953. Ethel Rosenberg was the first, sent to the electric chair after her and husband Julius were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

Bonnie Heady was sent to the gas chamber with her lover Carl Hall for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Kansas City. Mary Surratt was hanged by the U.S. government in 1865 for her involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln.

Timothy Krajcir, 63, is a serial killer who pleaded guilty to murdering five woman on separate occasions. He got a life sentence by making a deal to plead guilty in exchange for the Government not seeking the death penalty. [More...]

Krajcir has admitted to killing a total of nine women in four states. He has already received a combined 80-year sentence for two killings in southern Illinois.

He has also been charged with rape and murder in Pennsylvania. He has been indicted in Kentucky on kidnapping and burglary charges stemming from a 1979 death, but the prosecutor said the actual killing did not take place in the state.

....As Krajcir pleaded guilty to each killing — and to three separate rapes in which he let his victims live — he described the same pattern. He spotted a woman at a public place, followed her home and returned later to attack her at gunpoint. He mutilated the body of one victim.

Krajcir was no stranger to the justice system:

Krajcir has spent most of his adult life in prison; the string of murders to which he confessed occurred during a brief window when he was free. Krajcir attended Southern Illinois University, where he studied criminal justice.

Authorities say he traveled to Cape Girardeau to hunt for victims and kill them, stumping detectives who sought mostly local suspects.

While I oppose the death penalty for anyone, it strikes me as very unfair that Krajcir, a man with a much worse criminal record, is getting life, while a mentally ill woman with fewer victims is getting the death penalty. If he is getting life without parole, so should she.

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    Can't argue with that! n/t (none / 0) (#1)
    by Faust on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 01:24:58 AM EST

    Kracjir accepted a plea bargain; (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 01:44:18 AM EST
    Montgomery didn't.  Also:

    The jury rejected claims from Montgomery's attorney, Fred Duchardt, that she should be spared the death penalty because sexual abuse during her childhood led to mental illness.

    dumbass jury (none / 0) (#4)
    by TeresaInPa on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 07:26:56 AM EST
    that's the whole point, the judgment of the jury is unjust.

    Side comment (none / 0) (#3)
    by dianem on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 06:21:59 AM EST
    I don't know what kind of mental illness this woman has, but mental illness cannot be "caused" by a poor upbringing or traumas that occur in childhood, even sexual abuse. Mental illnesses are widely accepted to be biologically based. That does not mean that people cannot be impacted by childhood events, or that mentally ill people cannot have had traumatic events that require therapy in addition to their regular medication/therapy regime.

    Often non mental-illnesses (PTSD, Addiction) are classified with mental illnesses because, well, we really don't have a place to put them, and they often have components (like depression or anxiety) that are associated with mental illnesses. Somebody needs to help these people, and until we know better they are included as "mentally ill" because there is no other place for them in the medical system. Also, self-treatment for mental illness often leads to alcohol and drug addiction, so there is significant overlap.

    It's all very complicated, really, because psychiatry is in it's infancy and there is so much that is not known. But it has become widely accepted that mental illness is not "caused" by childhood traumas or poor upbringing. It is an organically caused problem that is not the "fault" of the victim or their parents or anybody else and that must be treated with a combination of medication to treat the disorder and therapy to help people deal with it's consequences. Thinking otherwise causes people to think that they can just "Get over it" and move on with their lives. This attitude has done a lot of harm over the years, because it discourages them from getting treatment they need.

    /side comment

    I'd argue that they were both (none / 0) (#5)
    by Fabian on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 07:39:00 AM EST
    mentally ill.

    The serial killer is obviously pathological, but at this time, incurably/untreatably so.  Permanent incarceration is a logical consequence.

    The woman may be mentally ill, but she can probably be treated and possibly released.

    Looking at both cases from the POV of the possibility of resolution of the pathology, the woman has the best chance of resolving her problems.

    But....that is not what the justice system is set up to do.


    That's Not the point (none / 0) (#11)
    by dianem on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:25:35 AM EST
    I'm not arguing that she isn't mentally ill, simply that her mental illness wasn't "caused" by sexual abuse as a child. I would argue against "treating and releasing" her. Treatments are not so sophisticated that they can be guaranteed to be effective. This woman, like the serial killer, was mentally alert enough to carry off a very complicated murder that required considerable planning. She was not completely out of control. It's hard to say how much responsibility mentally people have for their actions. Sometimes none, and sometimes quite a bit. There just isn't enough known. I doubt that the death penalty is appropriate, but she has to be kept where she can't hurt people until we know how to treat her.

    biologic? (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jen M on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 09:15:18 AM EST
    Events can set off chemical imbalance in the brain.

    Clinical depression, for example.

    Abuse can cause physical damage. Childhood abuse can include malnutrition, beatings, sexual abuse which can leave lasting damage, even brain damage. Hell, even epilepsy can be caused by abuse.

    PTSD is not a mental illness? What would you classify it as? Damaged kidney? Ever heard of blast overpressure? They used to call it "shell shock" for a reason.

    Life events can cause chemical imbalance. Especially where there is a genetic predisposition. Your belief is not necessary for this to happen.

    Just because you haven't suffered from it doesn't make it false. I have never broken a single bone in my body, I don't go around claiming those who have are faking it.


    I agree (none / 0) (#8)
    by bjorn on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 09:42:39 AM EST
    with this since the brain can change we do not fully understand all the factors that contribute to any given mental disorder. But it seems to be widely accepted that biological, psychological, social, and past trauma can all play a role.  The brain is definitely always changing and impacted by the environment.  I understand that to say it is "only" biological may be an effort to reduce stigma but most helping professionals and doctors would disagree with that.  The DSM used by mental health professionals includes all mood disorders (depression, PTSD, anxiety) as mental disorders.

    Does MO have a law about insanity?  I know Andrea Yates got a retrail in Texas for killing her five children and they found her "guilty but insane" or not guilty by insanity. Whatever, I think the death penalty is wrong in every case.


    I didjn't say "only" biological (none / 0) (#12)
    by dianem on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:28:20 AM EST
    Other factors can come into play. But people who are not predisposed to becoming mentally ill can survive a lot of abuse without having any problems. Something needs to be present in the brain to set up the problem so that when a trigger goes off, the problem manifests itself. There are too many studies showing genetic and physiological connections to mental illness to think otherwise.

    I agree (none / 0) (#15)
    by bjorn on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:37:48 AM EST
    Yes but always take those studies with (none / 0) (#16)
    by Florida Resident on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:48:21 AM EST
    a grain of salt.  There were a lot of studies that were done in the past that suggested a difference in intelligence in the races and in the sexes.  Sorry but I don't always buy the studies, further studies later may prove them to be biased.

    Isn't it also true (none / 0) (#19)
    by Iphie on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 11:05:43 AM EST
    that abuse can permanently alter the brain chemistry of developing brains? That the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and seratonin are disrupted by abuse?

    I thought that this had been definitively proven and could be a result of parental neglect or rejection, not to mention someting as damaging as sexual abuse.


    Autism (none / 0) (#22)
    by Manuel on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 12:10:56 PM EST
    Our undetanding of these issues is indeed in its infancy and evolves as we learn more.  For a long time the "theory" that "refrigerator" mothers caused autism was very popular.  Today it seems likely that autism has a bilogical basis with enviromental triggers.  Some studies have reported autism like symptoms on kids raised in orphanages.  Many of the orphanage kids recover as their environment improves.

    Legally, isn't there such a thing as temporary insanity.  What are the accepted triggers for that in the courtroom?


    Not quite (none / 0) (#10)
    by ahazydelirium on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:19:08 AM EST
    "Thinking otherwise causes people to think that they can just 'Get over it' and move on with their lives. This attitude has done a lot of harm over the years, because it discourages them from getting treatment they need."

    That's the fault of the system for perpetuating the idea that psychological issues are less important and more easily altered than biological issues. It simply isn't true. Psychological studies have shown that the first year of life is perhaps the most important because the infat unconsciously absorbs information around him based on various things like family environment and language which influence everything that comes after. Certainly not biological, these psychological developments are just beginning to be understood. Attachment theory, for example, is a rich area of study that covers a plethora of issues from infancy to adulthood. (Although, to his credit, Freud really conceptualized this long before empirical data came around.)

    In any case, our society may be under the impression that you can just "get over" psychological issues. But that says nothing about the reality of psychological development. Instead, it speaks to the type of society in which we find ourselves. A capitalist system where the self-mastered individual is considered the ideal: the whole phenomenon of self-help books, including ones that claim to be able to make others love you, is just one example of this thinking but it really strikes at the heart of our current social system.  


    I'm totally against the death penalty (none / 0) (#6)
    by katiebird on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 08:16:29 AM EST
    And not in favor of it for anyone.

    But, in Lisa Montgomery's case, you make it sound like murder wasn't involved.  But the mother was killed.

    I still don't believe we should be paying executioners, not for anyone (and it's a local case for me.)  I think that if we are going to have a death penalty, we (regular people) should have to do death duty (managed like jury duty -- random selection from the population.)  It really seems sick to professionalize it.  As it is we don't have to assume any responsibility for the horror of it.

    However, since there is no possible way to avoid killing innocent people, I still don't believe in it.

    I remember hearing a comedian say (none / 0) (#13)
    by BarnBabe on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:35:34 AM EST
    In referring to Abortion and the Death Sentence. She compared it to fishing. Like throwing the fish back in the water because it is too small only to catch it later when it grew up and kill it. I never could understand why people who support life want death when 'they' want it. A oxymoron ProLife/ProDeath.

    These two cases show the differences in that one was done with malice and delight and premeditation and the other was done with chemical imbalance and desperation. And even though the one was premeditated, to spend the rest of your life in prison seems a pretty big punishment. Death is the easy way out.


    The death penalty is an aberration (none / 0) (#14)
    by Florida Resident on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:36:49 AM EST
    no civilized society should permit it.  As far as plea agreements I don't think it should have been on the table on a serial killer case, unless the case the government had was particularly weak.

    Women and children (none / 0) (#18)
    by nellre on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 11:01:54 AM EST
    It seems to me there is a segment of world society (or maybe just journalists?) that view women and children who have committed violent crimes more harshly than men.
    News coverage of children focuses on crime, violence, studies find

    However if this bias exists, it doesn't usually seep into the courtroom where saner minds prevail.
    Murder Earns Few Women Death Penalty  

    I wish all the death row cases made the news so we would be more aware.
    Case Summaries for Current Female Death Row Inmates
    Capital punishment by state 12/31/04

    excuse my obvious ignorance, (none / 0) (#20)
    by cpinva on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 11:46:49 AM EST
    but how did this end up in a federal court to begin with? shouldn't it have been tried locally?

    just for the sake of cost efficiency, LOWP is the more economical option, period.

    oops! (none / 0) (#21)
    by cpinva on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 11:47:22 AM EST
    sorry, should have been: LWOP

    Examples (none / 0) (#23)
    by Lora on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 12:42:44 PM EST
    Certain women (and men, too, for other reasons) are made examples of in the judicial system.

    It's the death penalty (none / 0) (#24)
    by Bob In Pacifica on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 06:56:39 PM EST
    I don't want either of them living on my block. Neither one deserves the death penalty because no government entity should be committing premeditated murder.

    mental illness? (none / 0) (#25)
    by diogenes on Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 10:26:35 PM EST
    Millions of people have "post-traumatic stress disorder" and do not commit murders.
    Most jurisdictions have a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity defense in which the defendant can prove that she was not responsible due to whatever mental illness she had.  Either the jury didn't buy the defense or her lawyer was incompetent (which would be grounds for appeal).

    Presume her sentence is just (none / 0) (#26)
    by dudleysharp on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 09:05:45 AM EST
    and his sentence is unjust, that he deserved death.

    Sparing her the death enalty just compounds injustice.

    Better some justice than none.

    We may not know the full basis for the plea bargain, yet.

    But, convicitions for all the crimes was, likely, not possible because of evidenciary issues and that to get a confession on all the crimes they had to plea.

    Very different than the case of the murderous woman.