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The Womb Snatcher Case

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today upheld the federal conviction and death sentence of Lisa Montgomery.  This is the bizarre case of a woman who strangled a pregnant acquaintance, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, near the end of her term, sliced upon her womb, and kidnapped her baby, Victoria Jo.  The Kansas City Star has this story.

From a trial practice standpoint, the most important part of the decision may be its treatment of PET scan evidence and the testimony of Dr. Ruben Gur.
After the jury had been selected and before opening statements, the district court ruled that Dr. Gur's testimony regarding his PET scan analysis would be excluded, finding that the evidence had minimal probative value because the abnormalities were consistent with many disorders, including pseudocyesis. The district court noted that the government's experts were unable to replicate Dr. Gur's calculations and that although Dr. Gur had produced the data that formed the basis of his opinion, he had failed to produce the original data from the PET scan centers. The district court concluded that the dispute over Dr. Gur's calculations would confuse the jury and distract it from the relevant and significant issues.
Irreproducibility of results and inability (real or feigned) to produce the data are not good signs in science.  The Court of Appeals held the exclusion was valid in the guilt phase.  In the penalty phase, "[u]nder the Federal Death Penalty Act's low threshold for admissibility," exclusion might have been error, but if it was it was harmless.

The MRI was junk. Ditto the lie detector.  "Results from a unilateral polygraph examinations have little probative value."

An interesting but unusual aspect of the case is Montgomery's claim that the murder did not result from the kidnapping because Victoria Jo was not a "person" until actually delivered from her mother's womb, by which time the mother was already dead. The court takes a broader temporal view, and "we conclude that a death may precede the completion of the crime of kidnapping, but nonetheless result from the kidnapping."

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