DENVER (CN) – Citing concern that her protest would hurt the appeal of a former client, a Mennonite woman has decided she will testify in a death-penalty case despite her religious beliefs against capital punishment.
Greta Lindecrantz, 67, was jailed on Feb. 26, after she said her religious beliefs prevented her from providing testimony in a death penalty appeal. Lindecrantz believes her testimony will aid the prosecution in condemning a man to death.
“As a Mennonite, Ms. Lindecrantz opposes all forms of violence, including capital punishment. Ms. Lindecrantz firmly believes that killing – state-sanctioned or otherwise – is never an appropriate solution,” said her attorney Mari Newman, with Killmer, Lane & Newman. “Ms. Lindecrantz has lived according to these firmly held, faith-based principles.”
Nearly a decade ago, Lindecrantz worked as an investigator for a legal team defending convicted killer Robert Ray, then accused of orchestrating the murder of two witnesses before they could testify against him. An Arapahoe County jury recommended the death penalty for Ray in 2009.
Ray’s new defense team appealed his sentence on grounds of ineffective assistance. Prosecutors called Lindecrantz to the witness stand, where she refused to testify.
“Her life’s work is dedicated to preventing people from being killed under the death penalty,” said Newman, who first spoke with Lindecrantz when she was subpoenaed and foresaw a philosophical impasse.
When Lindecrantz refused to budge, Arapahoe County District Judge Michelle Amico had her arrested for contempt of court. Lindecrantz was to be held “until she elects to answer the questions.”
The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld Amico’s order on March 2. Last week the Arapahoe District Attorney’s Office denied two motions seeking an early release for the elderly woman, who is said to have lost seven pounds during her incarceration.
The court never doubted the “sincerity” of Lindecrantz’s beliefs but was unwilling to bend the law in her favor. In his opinion on the contempt of court appeal, Judge Jerry Jones acknowledged that “Ms. Lindecrantz is in a tough spot – caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.”
“We conclude that any potential incidental burden on those (civil) rights must give way to the state’s paramount interest in ascertaining the truth and rendering justice,” Jones wrote in the unanimous decision upholding Amico’s order.
Local civil rights groups share Lindecrantz’s concerns, including the ACLU of Colorado. Executive director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley believes this case only demonstrates the extended harm of the state’s death penalty.
“In an admirable act of civil disobedience, Greta Lindecrantz has shown herself willing to bear the consequences of her conscientious refusal to participate in the government’s killing of another person,” Woodruff said. “However, her prolonged incarceration is unnecessarily punitive. The court has other less harsh alternatives to address the situation.”
Ray’s defense counsel told Newman that Lindecrantz’s refusal to testify could in fact adversely affect his appeal.
“This changes everything,” Newman said, adding, “Based on these changed circumstances, Ms. Lindecrantz has concluded that her religious beliefs honoring the value of all lives require her to testify in order to protect the legal rights of Mr. Ray.”
During her imprisonment, Lindecrantz also received the support of several religious groups, including the First Mennonite Church and Beloved Community, who sang outside the prison.
“‘Thou Shall Not Kill’ is one of the unifying commandments in all religions, as such it is an individual choice as to the threshold in which a violation may occur,” said Pastor Terence Hughes, president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance. “No one should have to choose between their relationship with their God and the law of man.
“We support her as she follows her conscience in doing what she believes is right in honoring human life.”
Arapahoe District Attorney George Braucher was unavailable for comment at press time.
Lindecrantz’s counsel awaits Amico’s decision regarding her release.