Citing evidence that his sexuality was used against him during his trial, gay rights and anti-death penalty activists are working to save the life of a Missouri gay man set to be executed this week for a 1986 murder.
Closer to home, an African-American lesbian faces the death penalty in Illinois for the 1998 stabbing of a straight white man.
Stanley Dewaine Lingar and his companion, David Smith, who are both white, were convicted in 1986 for the murder of 16-year-old Thomas Scott Allen, a stranded motorist who the two offered a ride and later killed.
Smith, in exchange for a reduced sentence, testified against Lingar at his three-day trial, painting him as the mastermind behind the crime. Smith served 10 years and is now free; Lingar received the death penalty and is set to be executed at 12:01 a.m. Wed., Feb. 7.
Lingar's appeal attorneys, activists from Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Queer Watch and several other organizations have been working on his behalf, urging Missouri Gov. Bob Holden to grant clemency.
"There's no doubt he participated in the crime," said Adam Ortiz of Amnesty's Chicago office. "There is grave doubt of his part and his degree of responsibility and the circumstances of his sentencing."
"Stanley was not the mastermind," Ortiz said, adding that Lingar is mentally disabled and his co-defendant, Smith, is not.
"Lingar is borderline mentally retarded, has been diagnosed with a passive/dependent personality disorder, and Smith is demonstrably more intelligent," wrote Kent Gipson, Lingar's current attorney, in a memo on the case. "The facts suggest that Smith, not Lingar, was the triggerman in the murder, who lied about his involvement to save himself."
Ortiz said there is also medical evidence that disputes Smith's testimony.
Advocates are also focusing on Lingar's sentencing phase, during which they say prosecutors discussed his sexuality solely to prejudice the rural Missouri jury.
"Prosecutors harped on the fact that he had a gay relationship ( with Smith ) , and despite an objection the judge allowed it to stand," Ortiz said. "This man's sexual orientation was used for no reason but to put him to death."
Though an appeals court agreed that the discussion of Lingar's sexuality was irrelevant and unconstitutional, it ruled that the material didn't have an impact on the sentencing, and the judges refused, 2-1, to reverse the decision.
Ortiz noted that the appeals court Lingar faced, the 8th Circuit, is notoriously conservative and includes two judges appointed by former President Reagan.
There is also the issue of Lingar's trial lawyer, who activists say was unprepared for the kind of defense Lingar's case required.
"Stanley's attorney had never tried a first-degree murder case before and made a number of fundamental errors," Ortiz said, including leaving out critical mitigating evidence and relying on irrelevant case law.
Gov. Holden has repeatedly refused to meet with anyone related to Lingar's case and has made no public statements about the impending execution. On Feb. 5, activists planned a press conference outside Holden's office and were set to deliver a clemency request signed by several organizations.
Gay death penalty activists have been particularly disappointed in Holden's treatment of the situation, said Bill Dobbs of Queer Watch, a radical gay group.
"This governor ... solicited gay support and he got it," Dobbs said of the newly elected Democrat Holden, who replaced Mel Carnahan when he died in a plane crash before the November election.
Holden was endorsed by several gay groups in Missouri and had given indications that he would be receptive to gay issues, Ortiz said.
On the other hand, he added, it isn't as if many Missouri gays have been involved in Lingar's case.
"I've had some difficulty getting Missouri GLBT groups involved," he said.
Dobbs blasted gay organizations both inside and outside Missouri for remaining quiet on death penalty issues until recently, most notably after the murder of Matthew Shepard and just before the January 2001 execution of Wanda Jean Allen.
"You can't talk about civil rights without talking about the death penalty," he said, adding that of the 3,700 people on death row in the U.S., there are at least a handful of gays.
Dobbs and Ortiz also lamented the lack of attention the case has received in the local and national media. Ortiz said Amnesty sent releases to mainstream media outlets early last week and had not seen any coverage as of late last week. "This is such an exceptional case," he said.