Lisa's Niece: Jessica Farley Shares Her Memories of Lisa Montgomery

By: Amanda N. Marino

Date Posted: 1/19/2021

“When I sat down in front of Lisa, it was like I was looking at myself almost.” Jessica Farley didn’t grow up knowing her aunt Lisa Montgomery; they had no relationship before Montgomery’s arrest, and they first sat down with each other at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas. Montgomery had been separated from her sister Diane Mattingly (Farley’s mother) since childhood. Mattingly was adopted and her name was changed. "But they always looked for each other,” Farley said. The sisters reconnected during Montgomery’s trial. “First time my mom saw her baby sister that she always looked for was when she was on the stand,” Farley said. Farley said her relationship with Montgomery was a slow build. She had had a difficult time getting on Montgomery’s call list because she didn’t know Montgomery before the crime. They had phone calls, but Montgomery’s priorities were her children, her husband, and her sister. Then, suddenly, Montgomery’s date was scheduled, forcing the family to build on their relationship under new, frightening time constraints. Farley said she found out about Montgomery’s date through Montgomery’s youngest daughter on Facebook. “It was like we kind of had our head[s] in the sand,” Farley said of herself and Mattingly. “We thought there was just so much more time.” ----- Farley said visiting Montgomery in that Texas facility was intense. She wasn’t permitted to have anything with her. She couldn’t wear open-toed shoes or a bra with metal clasps. Traveling to the facility in the middle of COVID-19 posed its own difficulties, but Farley said they had to do it. “What are you going to do?” she said. “I mean, it’s the last time you’ll ever see her.” The first time Farley made that trip, Montgomery was already waiting for her and Mattingly on the opposite side of a glass pane. Farley said she had never had such a strong, physical resemblance to a relative before Montgomery. People tell her they look alike all the time. During the two-and-a-half hour visits, Farley said her mother and her aunt would hold their hands up to the glass while they talked. They talked about their shared childhood abuse, validating each other’s memories. They talked about family and said how much they loved each other. Farley said Montgomery would get cold during the visits. Her teeth would begin to chatter as their time together passed. Farley and Mattingly visited Montgomery twice at that facility, the only two times Farley got to visit her aunt. “It was mostly just a really loving conversation,” she said. ----- Farley said Montgomery is very soft-spoken. “I can tell she’s been in a lot of therapy,” Farley said of Montgomery. Consciously or not, she speaks about her aunt in the present tense. Farley said Montgomery had done a lot of work to be as kind and caring as she was. She loves Montgomery, but she also knows Montgomery was extremely mentally ill. Farley said during those visits to Texas, Montgomery would check out of the conversation. She would snap back into focus quickly, but it was clear she hadn’t followed what had been said. “She’s as connected to reality as she can be,” Farley said. ----- Mattingly also struggled with PTSD from the abuse she and Montgomery endured. She’s not broken though, she tells people. Farley believed her, but she still felt the need to shield her mother from suffering. “Growing up, I always felt like I had to protect her,” Farley said of her mother. After seeing Montgomery’s daughter post online about the execution date, Farley called her mother to tell her the news. It was extremely hard. “I just think watching her hurt so much has been very difficult for me,” she said. Farley took a break to get tissues before telling us about her mother’s efforts to protect Montgomery. She said Mattingly did every interview she could, telling people about Montgomery, and doing everything in her power to save her little sister. Farley went to the first few interviews, and over time she said they seemed to get easier for her mother, even though they were extremely taxing overall. “She needed a break, but at the same time she felt like she was letting Lisa down if she took a break.” ----- Montgomery sent Farley a Christmas card this year. Montgomery loved angels and Christmas. Her card was simple, written in blue crayon, which Farley noticed because Montgomery – limited in writing utensils while on suicide watch – had only had a black crayon for a while. This card had color. The message on the card was simple, too. “Merry Christmas. Love, Aunt Lisa.” ----- Before the execution, Montgomery’s youngest children flew from Oklahoma to Kentucky, where they met up with Mattingly, Farley, and Montgomery’s husband. The family gathered at a gas station across the Ohio River from Indiana and rode up in two separate cars to Terre Haute. Hotels weren’t booked until the night before the execution. They had to go “just in case,” Farley said. Had they found out too late and not arrived in Terre Haute in time, they would have been devastated. The family had told Montgomery they would be there for her. “We’ll be with you as close as we can be,” she said they had told Montgomery. “You won’t be alone.” ----- At the hotel, Farley said they forced down some Applebee’s before finding a place to stand watch outside of a Dollar General across the street from the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute. They weren’t sure what to expect: who would be there, how many reporters and cameras, if there would be parking. They finally left the hotel at 5 p.m., an hour before the scheduled execution, and parked their car in the lot. Farley said the people protesting Montgomery’s execution were very nice, but the family didn’t want to be recognized then. “It was going to be a very private moment for us,” Farley said. ----- It was cold, Farley said. They held signs. At 10 p.m., Montgomery’s attorneys told the family there were still stays of execution in place. The family asked how much advance notice they would get if “it” was going to happen. Twenty minutes, the attorney told them. The hotel was only ten minutes away. They drove back in silence. “We were all just basically waiting, watching the news, watching the Twitter feeds,” Farley said. News had broken early in the night that Montgomery had been executed, but her attorneys told the family that wasn’t true. It wasn’t even the first time that day that Montgomery had been reported dead. The morning of Montgomery’s scheduled execution, the Bureau of Prisons had labeled her as deceased before the appeals had even been exhausted. “We were pretty angry,” Farley said. Montgomery’s husband wrote to the BOP, but Farley said they aren’t expecting a response. “I don’t think they feel like they owe us anything,” she said. ----- Later that night, the attorneys called the family, and the family gathered into one hotel room. “When everybody was there, she said, ‘We lost everything,’” Farley said. Silence followed. Then, it was broken. “Well, I guess we better put our shoes on.” ----- The family waited outside the Dollar General until they saw the vans moving media witnesses to the execution chamber. They stood in a circle, holding hands, sending positive thoughts to Montgomery and saying prayers for her. They would later find out that Montgomery’s spiritual advisor wasn’t permitted in the room with Montgomery. He wouldn’t know why that happened. “He was going to sing to her, but he wasn’t able to,” she said. Farley said they stood outside, watching the building until Montgomery’s time of death was announced. Then, they went back to the hotel, where they met with Montgomery’s spiritual advisor. He and Montgomery’s attorneys had witnessed her execution. Farley said that with the spiritual advisor and attorneys present, Montgomery had somebody with her who loved her, who she got to lock eyes with in the chamber. ----- Farley said she and her family have not had much contact with Stinnett’s family. They want their privacy, and Farley would never presume to push her thoughts on them and risk retraumatizing them. She said she’d be happy to speak to them if they reach out to her. A friend of Stinnett’s did reach out to Farley though, asking her for help seeing Farley’s side. “It’s not that we want her to be free,” Farley explained. “We just don’t think that killing her does any good. It’s not gonna bring Bobbie Jo back.” Farley said she and Stinnett’s friend had a good conversation, but they still came down on different sides. “I think it was a little healing for her,” Farley said. Farley wants people to understand her love for her aunt. “The big thing is that people have a hard time with the fact that we still love Lisa,” Farley said. Even though Montgomery committed a horrible crime, and even though she regularly thinks of Bobbie Jo Stinnett’s family, “it is completely possible to have compassion for both sides.” ----- We spoke to Farley five days after Montgomery was executed. She admitted right away that she wasn’t doing well. Plans for the future, she said, made it feel less like a defeat. She thinks she’s in the denial stage of grieving now, and she said not being with her family has made things lonely, too. Her husband is a physician, and between his patients dying from COVID and her loss of Montgomery, “we are inundated with death now," Farley said. “It still just doesn’t quite feel real yet,” Farley said. “It just doesn’t feel real yet, even though I was there.” ----- Watching family home movies, Farley said she could see that Montgomery wasn’t “there” sometimes. She struggled to be in her head, with her thoughts. Medication and years of therapy helped Montgomery to recover after years of abuse. “She really did change,” Farley said. But change didn’t discount the atrocity of what happened to Stinnett. In fact, it highlighted the heartbreak of the situation. “What she did was horrible, but she’s not that person anymore,” Farley said. “And that person needed help…nobody helped her.” Farley wants people to know the Montgomery she got to know. “She’s not just her crime,” Farley said. “Her crime was terrible, but that person was so broken. And she wasn’t that person when she died.” Farley is emphatic about who her Aunt Lisa is. “We really want people to know that she was not that person anymore, after she was medicated and in therapy,” Farley said. She said she wants Montgomery’s life and story to help people, even just one person. “We don’t want this to just end with her death,” she said. ----- Farley said Montgomery did so much to parent from prison because her family was her everything. For her grandchildren, she made gifts, blankets, and stuffed animals. “When she talked about them, her face would just light up,” Farley said. “She said, ‘I have a legacy.’”

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