United States: Discrimination And The Machinery Of Death

Stanley Dewaine Lingar, a mentally impaired man, is scheduled to be executed in the state of Missouri in the USA at 12:01 AM on February 7. There is strong evidence that prosecutors in his case manipulated homophobic prejudice to ensure that he received the death penalty.

IGLHRC opposes the death penalty in all cases, as a violation of human rights. IGLHRC is gravely concerned about the enforcement of the death penalty in the United States, where African-Americans and the poor are disproportionately sentenced to die. Race and class dictate life and death in the United States' criminal system. This case suggests the degree to which other forms of prejudice, including hatred based on sexual orientation, can also determine the difference between survival and execution.

The United States has one of the world's largest prison systems. It also has one of the world's largest state killing machines. Relegating lives to interminable incarceration, and rendering death a public education tool, are sides of the same process, by which the despised and unwanted are subject to brutal control while still exploitable, and to disposal when not. Organizations including Queer Watch-a US-based LGBT organization campaigning against the death penalty-and Amnesty International have condemned the impending execution of Stanley Lingar. IGLHRC joins them in urging the governor of Missouri to commute Lingar's death sentence.

ACTION

FAX the governor of Missouri if possible-written letters will be most effective. DO SO IMMEDIATELY-the execution is scheduled for 12:01 AM on February 7. If faxing is not possible, send an e-mail or make a telephone call to:

Governor Bob Holden
Fax: +01 (573) 751-1495
Phone: +01 (573) 751-3222
E-mail: constit@mail.state.mo.us

Urge the governor to commute Stanley Lingar's death sentence. You may cite the points below about the irregularities in Lingar's trial. Remind the governor that evidence increasingly suggests that innocent people die because of the death penalty in the US. The governor of Illinois has been widely praised for imposing a moratorium on executions there; Governor Holden can make a similar moral as well as political statement by commuting this sentence.

BACKGROUND

Stanley Lingar's trial exhibited several serious irregularities:

  1. The prosecution persuaded Lingar's co-defendant, David Smith, to testify against him. Smith was the only other person present at the crime; his testimony was the key factor in Lingar's conviction for first-degree murder. As a result of this deal, Smith was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge; he has since been released.

    Prosecutors in the US often play one defendant against another, offering one a so-called "plea bargain" in return for testifying against the other. Such games with lives are unacceptable. As Amnesty International has written, "We consistently have serious questions about the reliability of the outcomes of these cases-concerns that must be taken into account, particularly when an inmate's life is at stake."

  2. Lingar's lawyer had no previous experience in handling cases which might lead to the death penalty. He failed to present evidence about Lingar's mental disability-including, according to Amnesty International, "a history of sexual abuse, a mental evaluation revealing borderline mental retardation, acute paranoid and depressive disorders, expressions of remorse for the crime, and indications that Lingar was a good candidate for rehabilitation." When the case was appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of three judges strongly dissented to a decision upholding the conviction. This judge stated there was "no reasonable probability that a jury advised of these circumstances would have imposed the death sentence on this mentally retarded and mentally disturbed young man."
  3. Lingar's conviction was followed by a "penalty phase" of the trial, in which the jury decided what punishment to impose. In this phase, the prosecution was asked to present additional evidence supporting the death penalty. The only evidence the prosecution chose to introduce involved Stanley Lingar's sexual orientation.

The prosecutor argued that Lingar's homosexuality was relevant to the motive and would help the jury to understand the crime "in our heterosexual society." On appeal, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals held that introducing evidence of Lingar's homosexuality was indeed unconstitutional. However, they decided that this evidence had not affected Lingar's case.

The appeals court was wrong. Amnesty International notes that "It appears as though the prosecutor's sole intention" in raising the issue of homosexuality "was to stir up homophobia among the jurors, who were drawn from a conservative and rural area of southeastern Missouri."