LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — A Kansas woman is set to be executed Dec. 8 for cutting an unborn child out of a Missouri woman’s womb. She’d be the first woman to be executed by the federal government in 67 years.
But one friend says the Lisa Montgomery she knows doesn’t deserve the death penalty.
The women bonded at Leavenworth Detention Center, then known as CCA, after committing two of the most shocking crimes in the greater Kansas City area in the early 2000s.
“I think at first we probably bonded a little bit because we both had that celebrity profile going on on the news, which is not a comfortable thing,” Toby Dorr said.
In 2006, Dorr was known as Toby Young. She ran the “Safe Harbor” program that brought dogs into Lansing Correctional for the prisoners. The married woman helped convicted murderer John Maynard escape in one of the dog crates, and they ran off together before being chased down and caught by police in Tennessee.
Just over a year earlier, Lisa Montgomery drove from Kansas to N.W. Missouri to meet a woman about a dog. She then strangled Bobbi Jo Stinnett, cut her unborn baby out of her womb and took off with her, claiming the girl was her own.
“I can’t imagine that poor baby thinking that happened at the moment she was born. It’s a horrible crime. There’s just no way not to make it horrible,” Dorr said.
As each trial unfolded in 2007, Dorr and Montgomery shared a pod at Leavenworth Detention Center. She said they used to cringe whenever their faces appeared on the news inside.
“Both of us always lamented over the horrible pictures that the media always used,” Dorr said.
The two became fast friends.
“Lisa was really kind, and she was generous, and she was soft spoken, and she was not dramatic like a lot of the other women were,” Dorr said.
Dorr said the horrific crime Montgomery committed is indefensible, but she didn’t let it define her.
“When someone new came in, they might say, ‘Oh I’m not going to talk to her,’ but that never lasted because Lisa was just easy to like. She was a quiet calm inside of a big storm inside the prison,” Dorr said.
With Montgomery under the care of a psychiatrist, she said she got to know the real Lisa Montgomery. She led the women in arts and crafts.
“None of us had even heard of tatting, but Lisa knew how to do it before she got there so she had dozens of us tatting different things so we could send things home to our family,” she recalled.
Once Dorr was released, Montgomery would send those crafts to her friend. Dorr still has a blue and white lace creation Montgomery sent her as a wedding present.
Dorr remarried another man not long after being released from prison, leaving her love affair with John Maynard in the past. Maynard’s serving a life sentence.
Dorr and Montgomery exchanged numerous calls, cards and letters.
“I truly believe the lord put us together. You are one of the nicest sweetest friends and don’t let anybody tell you different. Love you, Lisa,” Montgomery wrote in one letter.
Of all the letters, Dorr is paying close attention right now to one of the first she ever received after the women were sent to different prisons in Texas after the 15 months they spent as podmates. Montgomery wrote it April 1, 2008, three days before she’d go see a judge to find out if she’d get the death penalty.
“April 4th, this Friday, I will go to court to be sentenced. I’m okay. Everyone worries, remember what I have said my life is in God’s hands. Remember that, no crying,” Montgomery wrote.
Women’s groups and others have petitioned for Montgomery’s life to be spared. Dorr said Montgomery told her about the abuse she endured as a child.
“I’ve always been against the death penalty, but today the death penalty has a face, and that’s the face of my friend Lisa. I don’t think the world or our country or our society benefits by killing her,” Dorr said.
But Montgomery’s words have given Dorr the strength to pen perhaps one last letter of her own. She volunteered to travel to U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, and be there for her friend’s execution by lethal injection, if Montgomery wants her there.
“When she looks through that glass window, I want her to see somebody that loves her and that she knows loves her. I don’t want her to just see a bunch of people who are just there to cheer on her death. I want to give her that peace as she leaves,” Dorr said.
Since her release more than a decade ago, Dorr has gone on to produce a series of workbooks called “Unleashed,” geared toward women in prison starting their lives over. She said she’ll send them to Montgomery if the courts decide to take her off death row.