Judge jails defense investigator after she refuses to testify in death penalty case, citing her religious beliefs

“I don’t believe in killing fellow human beings or participating in that.”

Judge jails defense investigator after she refuses to testify in death penalty case, citing her religious beliefs

A prominent criminal defense investigator in Colorado is in jail for refusing to testify in a capital case she says is in conflict with her religious beliefs.

Greta Lindecrantz, 67 and a devout Mennonite, had been subpoenaed by 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler’s office to testify in the appeal of her former client, Robert Ray, one of three men on Colorado’s death row. Ray and his co-defendant Sir Mario Owens were convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 killings of Javad Marshall-Fields and fiancée Vivian Wolfe in Aurora. Ray’s appeal pivots partly on claims that he had inadequate legal representation at his 2009 trial.

Prosecutors hope that testimony from Lindecrantz – a highly respected, veteran investigator who has worked on several death penalty cases and in defense of detainees at Guantanamo Bay – will help them prove that Ray had competent legal defense and prevent his conviction from being overturned.

Lindecrantz faced both a subpoena by prosecutors and an explicit order by Arapahoe District Judge Michelle Amico that she testify about her work for Ray or risk being found in contempt of court and sent to jail for up to six months.

“This is now me telling you directly … and I’m ordering you to answer the questions,” the judge told her Monday afternoon. “I don’t want to do this, Ms. Lindecrantz. All I want to hear is the truth.”

“I’d have no problem saying the truth if death wasn’t on the line,” Lindecrantz, in tears, responded from the witness stand. “I don’t believe in killing fellow human beings or participating in that.”

Then came a slow, painful back and forth between Brauchler’s Chief Deputy Ann Tomsic and Lindecrantz, who no longer works on Ray’s defense team but is resolute in her conviction that testifying on behalf of prosecutors could lead to what she considers “state-sanctioned murder.”

Tomsic asked Lindecrantz more than 70 questions about her work for Ray.  And, more than 70 times, Lindecrantz wouldn’t respond.

“I cannot answer your question,” she’d say, her voice at once sad and shaky, yet firm.

“I can’t answer your question,” she’d repeat with the next question.

“I can’t answer your question,” she’d repeat again.

Closing arguments in Ray’s appeal are scheduled Wednesday after a year of hearings. Prosecutors have argued that proceedings can’t end without Lindecrantz’s testimony. Calling her refusal to testify “an extraordinary disruption to this courthouse,” Tomsic argued that given Ray’s allegations about inadequate legal assistance, “the court needs this witness’s testimony.”

Greta Lindecrantz

Agreeing that Lindecrantz is key to sussing out “the truth” in Ray’s appellate claims  and to ensuring a “full and fair proceeding for both sides, the judge was outwardly rattled by Lindecrantz’s refusal to testify. She also was clearly moved by Lindecrantz’s pleas to not be sent to jail.

Lindecrantz has been the primary breadwinner since her husband suffered serious heart problems in 2012. She said her family lives paycheck to paycheck after having spent their savings caring for her elderly parents. It would be an extraordinary financial and personal hardship to be put in jail, unable to work or care for her husband, she told the judge.

In a courtroom packed with fellow parishioners from Beloved Community Village and the First Mennonite Church of Denver, Lindecrantz said she has struggled with whether to testify since receiving the subpoena in December. “Do I follow the court’s word? Do I follow God’s word at the expense of my family and my husband?” she said.

“I feel like I was handed a gun and I was told to point it at Mr. Ray, and the gun might or might not have bullets in it, but I’d have to fire it anyway. I can’t shoot the gun. I can’t shoot the gun,” she told the judge, sobbing.

“I’m sorry I’m upset about this… I value human life and I’m not a woman raising her fist in the air trying to make a point here. … I’m not that person. I’ve lived my life trying to be a good person and decent person trying to promote and life,” she continued. “When I imagine testifying and I imagine looking at myself in the mirror, I wouldn’t be who I am.

“It’s probably unfair for the court to have to vie with God.”

The decision clearly stressed out the judge.

“This is excruciatingly difficult for the court,” Amico said before finding Lindecrantz in contempt and having her hauled off to the Arapahoe County jail until she agrees to testify.

Lindecrantz appeared in court again this morning. Wearing an orange jumpsuit and looking tired, she again refused to answer prosecutors’ questions and was returned to jail by the judge. Another hearing is scheduled for tomorrow at 8:45 a.m. In the meantime, her friend and attorney, Mari Newman, is working on an emergency appeal to the state Supreme Court to keep her out of jail and protect her right not to testify on religious grounds.

Newman argues that using jail time as a way to coerce Lindecrantz into testifying will be no more effective than putting her on home arrest with an ankle bracelet. She said Lindecrantz deserved a full hearing on whether she should have been sent to jail – a right she would have been afforded, ironically, if she had failed to appear in court when subpoenaed. She shouldn’t have been penalized, Newman asserts, for showing up.

Newman also argues that prosecutors were able to glean all they need to know about the quality of Ray’s legal defense from earlier testimony by Ray’s former lawyers under whom Lindecrantz worked on the case from 2005 to 2009.

Tomsic countered that because Lindecrantz was paid by the state for her work on Ray’s behalf, she’s obliged to testify. Newman disagreed. It’s “not any justification that (someone) can be compelled by the state in direct contradiction of her religious beliefs,” she argued. “Constitutional rights are not bought and sold in that manner.”

It’s unclear if Lindecrantz will remain in jail until – or even after – the Supreme Court rules on her appeal. It’s also unclear how her refusal to testify will affect Ray’s appeal, if at all. Lawyers for both prosecution and defense say they can’t give closing arguments on Wednesday, as scheduled, because Ray’s claims about having had ineffective legal assistance are intertwined with his other claims that prosecutors withheld key evidence that would have helped him at trial.

In denying an appeal by Owens, Ray’s co-defendant, in September, a judge ruled that Tomsic and her colleagues committed prosecutorial misconduct in not turning that evidence over to Owens’ defense lawyers.

The Colorado Independent has become a party in the Owens’ case by fighting to unseal court documents detailing that misconduct under the leadership of former 18th Judicial DA Carol Chambers and George Brauchler, her successor. Brauchler is seeking the Republican nomination for Colorado Attorney General after ending his bid for governor last fall. His office has written that it fears the documents, if unsealed, would be used “to gratify private spite or – promote public scandal” and “to serve as reservoirs of libelous statements for press consumption.”

In the meantime, some Mennonites rallying in support of Lindecrantz question Brauchler’s motives in trying to keep her behind bars.

“I understand her position on religious grounds and think she’s caught in the jaw of a vice. I think that in some ways she’s being set up. I think it’s punitive,” says Norm Dewhurst of Denver.

Fellow parishioner Rob Hansen of Littleton lauded Lindecrantz for what he called her bravery.

“She’s like a model for us,” he said. “The world would be a better place if more people had the conviction to follow through on their beliefs.”

Concerns about religious liberties in this case span beyond the Mennonite faith. The Colorado Interfaith Alliance is joining in the effort to press for Lindecrantz’s freedom, bringing other denominations into the cause.

“We stand with Greta in standing up in for what she believes and refusing to participate in the death penalty,” says the Rev. Amanda Henderson, the Alliance’s executive director. “Greta is a woman who has done all she can to live her Mennonite values values faithfully. We support her in refusing to participate in the prosecution’s case.”

Lindecrantz’s friends and supporters gathered in courthouse hallway late Monday afternoon after watching her hauled away in handcuffs. One asked how long she’ll have to do jail time. “Until someone cracks,” answered another.

There was a pause among them, a silent moment when they shook their heads knowingly.

“Mmmm,” said a third person in the group. “Yeah. That definitely won’t be Greta.”

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About the Author

Susan Greene

A recovering newspaper journalist and Pulitzer finalist. Her criminal justice reporting includes “Trashing the Truth,” with Miles Moffeit, and “The Gray Box.”
susan@coloradoindependent.com | 720-295-8006 | @greeneindenver

6 Comments

  1. JohnInDenver on said:

    Gee, I wonder when the Evangelicals who want “freedom of religion” in their professional lives will notice this case.

    Seems to me that those championing a pharmacist who claims he or she shouldn’t be compelled to issue a prescription, a baker who claims he or she shouldn’t be compelled to create a cake, or government employees who don’t want to officiate at a wedding of gay or lesbian couples ought to appreciate this sincere religious belief.

  2. Leo of America on said:

    JohninDenver: I suppose then by your logic only hypocrites and Athiest should have professions that serve or interface with the public. If someone can be compelled against their religious beliefs, then there is no line preventing compelled testimony for spouses, attorney client privilege, clergy, doctors, or even self incrimination.

  3. Leo of America on said:

    The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.

    J Madison 1st Ammendment submission.

    In this case, the Judge has implicitly sided with the state by determining that the witnesses act of refusing to aid in an execution, compelled by her religious belief and conscientious convictions, is contrary to public peace and order. As a result the judge is coercing, under the laws of the state, a witness to testify on behalf of the state for the furtherance of its case. Unfortunately the case will end with a Supreme Court filing for both the defendant and the witness; not furthering justice for any, especially the victim.

  4. Bill monroe on said:

    So much to say , so little time today to address this issue. This is our problem as Defense Investigators. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people who claim to be Defense Investigators say silly things like, I won’t take cases like this, or in instances like this, won’t do what is required by law, and most importantly your job! If you have moral convictions about the death penalty…..Defense Investigation for Capital cases may not be for you…This goes directly to the duty, responsibility, ethics, and the heart of what we are here for as CD investigators. This type of thing makes me cringe every time I see it or hear someone who touts themselves as a Criminal Defense Investigator say things like “My job is to get my client off”, or “My job is to do what the attorney tells me to do” or this one which is the most foolish of all “My job is to do what is in the best interest of my client.” Makes me mad everytime I hear it. Your job….as a criminal Defense Investigator is the pursuit of the truth. Period. We don’t litigate, we Investigate, and report facts. Period. That is your job, to pursue the truth. Not what the police say they did, not what the attorney said they did, and not even what the defendant says he did. Your job as a Criminal Defense Investigator is the pursuit of the truth, however that may shake out. You don’t get to decide in a criminal case what is fair, or what is the right thing to do according to your religion. If that guides you, you are doing a disservice to your client, to your colleagues, to the justice system, and most importantly to yourself. Mitigation is a very difficult task when the truth does not fit the defense strategy. Does that mean you omit, or not follow leads, or guide, or direct an investigation one way or another? No. You do your job. Obviously you didn’t do too good of a job with regards to mitigation. If you cannot bring yourself to tell the truth, in what you uncover as a CD Investigator on a Capital case…then you should leave Capital case mitigation to the experts. Grandstanding. Period. It goes to the core of our ethical responsibility as CD Investigators. This is a huge issue in our career field one that I will address in a white paper that I am preparing for the CDITC on Ethics in Criminal Defense Investigation

  5. Joana Isabel on said:

    I’m so glad we don’t have these kind of concerns in my country….This does not mean there are killings…rapes and so one …but killing by the state is over….so we do not have to deal with it.

  6. Cindy on said:

    One statement here bothers me the most. “Tomsic countered that because Lindecrantz was paid by the state for her work on Ray’s behalf, she’s obliged to testify.” Aren’t the public defenders also paid by the state?

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