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.”
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.”