Federal prosecutors are convinced accused murderer Chastain Montgomery Sr. is living proof it doesn't take a genius to commit a crime. But, in announcing their intentions to seek the death penalty against the man, who with his deceased son, murdered Henning Post Office workers, Paula Robinson and Judy Spray in 2010, they are faced with the real prospect it could take years to prove Montgomery is mentally competent to stand trial and face execution if convicted. Apparently, Montgomery's alleged dimwittedness may serve as his defense team's best asset.
"We have presented records. There've been filings in court about the mental disability of our client. There've been I-Q scores below 65," says Montgomery's attorney Michael Scholl. "We have a system that says you are not allowed to legally kill a disabled person."
A meticulous Judge John McCalla carefully worked out a schedule to proceed toward a possible trial. On March 15th prosecutors will serve formal notice of their intent to file for the death penalty. On June 14th both sides must file expert witness reports. Then on September 23rd McCalla will preside over what's called an Adkin's hearing to determine Montgomery's mental capacity to face the ultimate punishment. Consider it a "birth to adulthood" review through the alleged maze that's Montgomery's mind.
"It's saying your client is mentally disabled. That you have to have an I-Q score of a certain....a certain I-Q score, below a certain level prior to the age of 18," says Scholl.
University of Memphis Law Professor Steve Mulroy explains, "There are certain things called "adapted function deficits." Things that you have trouble doing in day to day life. Things like communication, or work skills, or taking care of yourself. Things like that. You've got to get at least two of those certified by psychologists."
There's precedent to suggest this kind of defense works. More than a decade ago brothers Robert and Antonio Carpenter both escaped the death penalty despite being convicted for the horrendous carjacking and murder of 63-year-old Barbara Ann Lee.
While Antonio was found mentally competent to stand trial, his young brother was deemed mentally incompetent due to his low I-Q. Both are serving life in prison.
Prison is a place where Chastain Montgomery will probably continue to reside in for some years to come before his day in court ever arrives.
"This is something we'll litigate all the way through this case and if things don't go in our favor, it'll be litigated for years to come, probably at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers," says Scholl.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that sounds like a prospect as dumb as it is grim.