MCC joins coalition in plea to halt Lingar execution
By Jay Nies
Special to The Catholic Key
JEFFERSON CITY - Death penalty opponents said Feb. 5 that the scheduled execution of Stanley Dewaine Lingar typifies everything that is wrong with capital punishment.
Jay Nies/Catholic Missourian p
Gerald A. LeMelle of Amnesty International USA hands to Marilyn Parrish, Gov. Bob Holdenís receptionist, a letter requesting the commutation of Stanley Lingarís death sentence on Feb. 5. With him are Jeremy Weis, an attorney representing Lingar; and Rita
Lingar was scheduled to be put to death at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 7. He was to be the 47th person executed in Missouri since the death penalty was reinstated in the state in 1989.
"It is obvious that the justice system has failed Stanley Lingar," said Rita Linhardt of the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy agency of Missouri's four Catholic dioceses, at a press conference at the state Capitol. "Mercy is clearly justified in this case."
Linhardt joined Amnesty International USA deputy executive director Gerald A. LeMelle, Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty representative Jeff Stack, and an attorney representing Lingar, in delivering to Gov. Bob Holden's office a letter requesting a commutation of Lingar's death sentence. The letter was signed by various advocacy and death penalty abolition groups, as well as the MCC.
Lingar was convicted in 1986 of the 1985 shooting and beating death of 16-year-old Thomas Scott Allen.
Linhardt noted that a co-defendant had cooperated with authorities and received a 10-year sentence.
"Time and time again in crimes involving two defendants, one is offered a plea bargain in return for testimony against the other," LaMelle said. "We are very concerned about the reliability of the outcomes of such cases. The governor must take these concerns into account, particularly when a person's life is at stake, as it is in this case."
LaMelle and Linhardt noted that Lingar's defense attorney had never before tried a first-degree murder case. At the sentencing stage, the attorney did not present crucial arguments that might have swayed the jury to recommend life in prison instead of death, Linhardt said.
She said the prosecution waited until the sentencing phase to present testimony about Lingar's sexual orientation, "which was used to stir up homophobia among the jurors in the rural, conservative area."
Finally, she noted the flawed nature of the death penalty in general, and the U.S. Catholic bishops' and Pope John Paul II's statements that the death penalty is "both cruel and unnecessary."
When the Eighth Circuit of Appeals in 1999 upheld Lingar's death sentence, one of the three judges strongly dissented.
The judge said mitigating factors, such as Lingar's history of being sexually abused, evidence of borderline mental retardation, acute paranoid and depressive disorders, expressions of remorse for the crime, and indications that Lingar could be rehabilitated should have been considered in the sentencing phase of the trial.
The judge said that in all probability, "no jury advised of these circumstances would have imposed the death sentence on this mentally retarded and mentally disturbed young man."
"The murder of Scott Allen was a tragic, senseless act of violence," Linhardt said. "As people of faith, our hearts go out to murder victims and their families. As faith communities, we must acknowledge the pain, anger and suffering of these individuals. We must be committed to offering them concrete assistance as they struggle to overcome their loss and find a sense of peace.
"Yet, we know that we cannot restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life."
LaMelle said Amnesty International which, like the MCC, opposes the death penalty outright, took special interest in this case because of the nature of the conviction and sentencing. The Lingar case indicates how flawed the system is, he said.
He said support for the death penalty crumbles when people watch cases from beginning to end and see the disparities and injustices, especially with poor and minority defendants.
Missouri ranks fourth in the nation in the number of executions carried out in recent years. Nine Missouri inmates were executed in 2000.
Lingar's was to be the first death sentence carried out under Gov. Holden's administration. The Feb. 5 letter urged the governor to "pay heed to the growing number of murder victims who actively oppose the death penalty, arguing that executions represent an appalling memorial to their loved ones, create more victims and nurture a culture of violence."
Last week, a consortium of civic religious leaders throughout the state, including Missouri's Catholic bishops, and leaders of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Synods, submitted to the governor's office a clemency application stating many of the same concerns. State law and the Missouri Constitution require the governor to turn clemency applications for death sentences over to the state's probation and parole board for investigation.
The MCC has filed clemency applications for all Missourians sentenced to death since 1989. The MCC in November, the day before the state put James Wilson Chambers to death, filed a federal lawsuit citing a lack of evidence that clemency applications for Chambers and others had been sent to the probation and parole board, or of the board's investigations. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene, and Chambers was executed.
"We sincerely hope that Stanley Lingar's case will receive the full and thorough investigation to which it is entitled," Linhardt said. "However, at this time, there is no indication that it will."
She noted that the governor had selected the theme "One Missouri: One Bright Future" for his inauguration and new administration.
"Missouri's future will be brighter if this execution is not carried out in our names," she said. "The common good of our state will be promoted if this execution is stopped and the cycle of violence broken."
The MCC and other groups are working with state lawmakers on legislation calling for a three-year moratorium on executions while an independent commission investigates the state's sentencing practices.
Legislation is also pending that would ban the execution of people with mental retardation.
The MCC has asked Catholics throughout the state to contact their state senators and representatives in support of these bills.
Jay Nies is editor of The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City.