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Taped confession of accused postal killer Montgomery to be admitted

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MEMPHIS - A rare piece of damning evidence - a video of Chastain Montgomery Sr. confessing to the murders of two post office employees - will be shown to jurors in his upcoming trial, a federal judge ruled last week on the heels of a January ruling that deemed him eligible for the death penalty.

Videotaping interviews is not regularly done by the federal agencies that investigated the case, but the opposite is true in Tipton County, where Montgomery was questioned.

On Feb. 14, 2011, Montgomery's 18-year-old son, was gunned down by police in Mason after leading authorities on a pursuit from Haywood County. They were suspects in a Nashville robbery that morning.

After his son was shot and killed, Montgomery, who was traveling in a different vehicle, broke through crime scene tape to get to his son and was taken into custody by detectives after he was found with dye-marked bills in his possession.

'I lost my head'

It was during his interview with authorities in Tipton County that Montgomery confessed he and his son were responsible for the deaths of Covington resident Paula Croom Robinson, a 33-year-old postal clerk, and Henning resident Judy Spray, 59, a postal carrier, on Oct. 18, 2010.

He told police he convinced his son to work with him to rob the Henning Post Office. Killing the clerks was never in the plan.

A written confession from Montgomery reads: "I jumped over the countertop and directed the black lady to open the cash register. After I saw there was no money, I lost my head and begin to shoot her numerous times, and my son shot the other lady two times.

"I didn't go in there to kill her. I just was going through hard times and I lost my head when there wasn't no money in there."

Montgomery also apologized for the murders and asked for forgiveness from the families.

He was arraigned in Tipton County General Sessions Court on Feb. 18, 2011, four months to the day after Robinson and Spray were killed. He was later transferred to federal custody where he has been held since.

Robinson, a Covington High graduate, left behind a husband and two young children. A calendar printed by the Tipton County Junior Auxiliary in 2011 featured a drawing by Robinson's daughter; in it, Paula's daughter called her an everyday hero.

Spray left behind a husband, two sons, four daughters, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Only $63 was taken from the post office.

Mentally competent

Last month, in a 261-page ruling, U.S. Senior District Judge Jon P. McCalla declared Montgomery competent to stand trial despite intellectual disabilities.

A former corrections officer, Montgomery reportedly became upset during the hearing when his mother, Lois, told the court he reached his developmental milestones, including potty training and tying his shoes, later than his siblings.

The ruling reports Mrs. Montgomery testified that, even when her son was an adult, she was concerned about him "being able to function by himself or whatever."

Other lay witnesses, such as Montgomery's sister Chrystal Barrow, and estranged wife, Melissa, had troubles with day-to-day tasks, such as buttoning his shirt, maintaining good hygiene and following directions when driving.

At the time of the Henning robbery and murders, Melissa testified, their son had been living with his father since the previous year due to alleged misbehavior. She told the courts Montgomery's home was a mess.

"... Like a disaster area, I mean stuff strung everywhere, dishes, cups and stuff sitting in there, just - old food left on them, stuff all over the table," the ruling reports.

During testimony from Michael Farrish, a former co-worker at the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility, in October 2013, Montgomery had an outburst and threatened to kill Farrish when he told the court he could be easily manipulated by inmates. Judge McCalla noted testimony from other lay witnesses contradicted this.

The ruling also states that Montgomery is a Henning native whose father, a second-generation plumber, died in a boating accident in 1978. Montgomery graduated from Ripley High School in 1982, ranking 195 of 245 students, then attended the University of Tennessee at Martin for three semesters.

He began working for the West Tennessee High Security Prison in Henning in 1989, Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville in 2000 and Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in 2002 until his 2011 arrest.

He was employed with the Henning post office under a cleaning and lawn care agreement from June 25, 1994, until June 21, 1996.

The ruling also states, despite working significant overtime at part-time jobs, he "was very responsible about trying to help his children." In addition to Chastain Jr. - nicknamed CJ - he has a daughter who turned 21 on Feb. 8.

McCalla determined that while there is evidence of an intellectual disability, Montgomery shows no signs of adaptive deficit.

"Defendant has had no difficulty obtaining and keeping multiple jobs and successfully worked various corrections and security-related jobs with different levels of complexity over a period of over 20 years," McCalla said. "The evidence in the case has shown that persons with mild mental retardation/intellectual disability are not successfully employed in the category of jobs at which Defendant maintained long-term employment."

The denial means prosecutors can seek the death penalty.

chastain montgomery, Henning post office
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