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Regional & National

Defense argues against death penalty in Tennessee post office shootings

May 7th, 2013 4:01 pm by Staff Report

MEMPHIS — A former prison guard charged with killing two Tennessee post office workers should not face the death penalty because the punishment is unconstitutional, court documents filed Tuesday said.

In motions filed in federal court in Memphis, defense attorneys for Chastain Montgomery argued that the federal death penalty violates his right to due process and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Defense lawyer Michael Scholl said that because the death penalty is so rarely used in federal court, it is being applied in an arbitrary and random manner in this case. Only three people have been executed under the federal death penalty since 1963.

Montgomery, 48, has pleaded not guilty to killing Paula Robinson and Judy Spray during an October 2010 robbery of the Henning post office with his son. Prosecutors say Montgomery and his 18-year old son, Chastain Montgomery Jr., became angry and began shooting when they discovered the post office only had $63 to steal.

The pair robbed at least two Tennessee banks before the younger Montgomery stole a truck and was killed in a shootout with police in Mason in February 2011, investigators said.

The elder Montgomery was arrested when he showed up at his son's shooting scene in the getaway car used in the post office killings, investigators said.

Federal prosecutors said in March that they plan to seek the death penalty at Montgomery's pending trial.

Prosecutors claim Montgomery has shown no remorse and is capable of "future dangerousness." Montgomery planned to escape custody by making a "shank" and attacking a U.S. Marshal, prosecutors say.

Scholl challenged the assertions that Montgomery has shown a lack of remorse and is likely to be violent in the future. He noted Montgomery had no criminal record before his arrest.

Scholl also noted the rare use of the federal death penalty. He questioned why prosecutors are seeking death when more high-profile defendants such as Olympic and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph and Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski were sentenced to life in prison under plea agreements.

"Many potential federal capital defendants have not faced the death penalty in cases far more aggravated than Mr. Montgomery's," Scholl wrote.

The defense lawyer also claimed that the federal death penalty is unevenly applied on a regional basis and suffers from racial discrimination. Montgomery is black.

"Because the federal death penalty is so rarely sought or imposed, the statute operates in a fundamentally arbitrary and capricious manner and, therefore, is not constitutional," Scholl wrote.

Mental evaluations have shown that Montgomery is mentally disabled, with an IQ of about 65, Scholl has said. The defense is challenging a confession Montgomery gave to authorities after his arrest at the scene of his son's death, arguing that he was not provided a lawyer during questioning and that his statement was coerced by investigators.

No trial date has been set in the case. A hearing in September will address Montgomery's mental competency.

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