In 1998, when John Montstream's body was found in a parking ramp in Niagara Falls, New York, I was part of a coordinated response to family violence project in Niagara County, New York. A licensed psychologist, I came to the project "on loan" from the Law School at the University of New York at Buffalo. My law school experience had begun in 1993 when I audited Professor Isabel Marcus's seminar "Terrorism in the Home." Previously, because of my interest in the ways in which psychology and law mix (for good or ill), I had written several research papers on such topics as custody evaluations, and impact of mandated child abuse reporting on psychotherapy clients and their providers, and divorce. I had also interviewed many local criminal justice figures for articles published in The Buffalo News.
And-- I arrived on the scene at the Law School, just as the Violence Against Women Act was being promulgated. VAWA contained significant research grant opportunities in family violence research. The grants often required an interdisciplinary approach. I was invited to join the Law School faculty in an untenured position and remained there for several years. Most of my time was spent working on special projects such as the Niagara County Domestic Violence Project.
One of my assignments was to study the new domestic violence misdemeanor court in Niagara Falls, New York. My observations of defendants was consistent with other researchers' findings. The ratio of male to female defendants was 10:1.
Therefore, when I learned that Annette Montstream would testify at her alleged co-conspirator's murder trial, I decided to attend the trial when she testified. Annette had confessed to arranging for someone else to kill her husband. She had also confessed to helping him with transportation in order to facilitate the murder.
I wanted to hear what a woman perpetrator would say about her own family violence acts. While I realized that a court witness isn't her "typical self" on the witness stand (due to the pressures of testifying and speaking in such an alien environment by most people's standards), I thought I might be able to learn something about what makes a woman turn so lethal.
Murder isn't generally thought of as an entry level crime. I was intrigued by the fact that for both Annette and the alleged shooter, this was their first brush with the law.