Death penalty testimony a matter of faith

Colorado woman reflects on being jailed for refusing to assist prosecutors

May 7, 2018 by and

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On Feb. 26, Greta Lindecrantz of Denver was a mitigation specialist working in the legal system to help a man avoid the death penalty.

On Feb. 27, she was an inmate in the Arapahoe County Detention Center.

Greta Lindecrantz


It would be her home for two weeks — the price for taking a stand based on her faith.

Lindecrantz found herself in a prison jumpsuit when she was held in contempt of court for refusing to testify in a sentence appeal hearing. As a mitigation specialist, she is an investigator who works with legal defense teams to help clients who are found guilty avoid death sentences.

“We look for genetic issues, mental health issues, how our client grew up, education, social issues,” she said in an April 27 interview. “Most of my clients bear the scars of our society. I’m looking at toxicity, poverty, neglect, the school system. For this client, he grew up on the south side of Chicago, and that comes with myriad issues.”

Prosecutors had called on her to testify in an appeals hearing for Robert Ray, who was sentenced to death in 2009 for ordering the murder of two people who were witnesses in another murder case. Lindecrantz worked as an investigator for his defense team from 2005 to 2009.

She is a member of Beloved Community Mennonite Church in Englewood and is also involved at First Mennonite Church of Denver. A Mennonite since the age of 14, she said her faith is her moral compass.

“I believe in hope. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in grace. I feel like that’s what drives me to do it,” she said. “I feel like I believe in the good in people, and I believe people can be accused of terrible crimes but that shouldn’t be the end of the story in the justice system. . . .

“I believe in restorative justice, and I think the death penalty is not very restorative. I think it’s mostly revenge, and I don’t think we as a society or government should be in the business of revenge.”

Ray’s appeal, which is ongoing, claims his representation was inadequate. Prosecutors wanted Lindecrantz to truthfully testify about her expertise, hoping it would bolster their case for the death penalty. She refused on religious grounds.

After about two weeks, she decided to cooperate with the court after being notified through her attorneys that Ray was concerned her refusal might hurt the chances of overturning the death sentence.

The doors clicked shut

While jail was an unpleasant experience for Lindecrantz, who was 67 at the time, she could feel “the vibration of prayer” come from members of her church community who kept daily vigils of singing and prayer at noon outside the facility.

For at least a month before her refusal to testify, she felt calm and peace whenever she would imagine her refusal.

“I said a lot of prayers. My church said a lot of prayers for me. I felt calm about not taking part in state-sanctioned murder,” Lindecrantz said. “I continued to feel calm. When I was looking at the women around me [in jail], I don’t think a lot of them had that, so I felt like I was given a gift before I was in there.”

But separation is tangible. She cried through phone calls with her husband. Claustrophobia hit her when doors clicked shut.

No handmade gifts are allowed. Glitter is forbidden, so guards confiscated a handmade card from a girl in Lindecrantz’s congregation.

“You’re issued a rubber spoon and a rubber cup. They smell indescribably bad, and all your food tastes like those smell,” she said. “I learned my second week I could buy coffee in the commissary. I would leave a little coffee in my cup so that the spoon and cup would smell like that.”

Though she was detached from her community, she found a new one within the walls. She learned how to make jailhouse makeup from colored pencils. She knitted a sleeve back on to a fellow inmate’s shirt using a plastic hair pick and a thread ripped from a sheet.

“They gave me a handmade card with origami butterflies. It said ‘Thank you’ on the outside and on the inside it said ‘for bringing light into a dark place,’ ” Lindecrantz recalled. “I was overwhelmed. These are women facing all sorts of issues, and they took the time to do that.”

From concern to action

Nearly two months after her release, Lindecrantz is still working through a pile of mail. The tears come after only a letter or two.

In her congregations there was already significant awareness of the death penalty and injustices in the system.

“I think now people want to know what action to take,” she said, noting Beloved Community Pastor Vern Rempel interviewed her during the April 29 worship service. “I feel like there’s a lot more opposition to the death penalty than I’ve seen. It wasn’t something right in front of people’s minds until someone took a shot for resisting.”

Though she cited her First Amendment rights of religious freedom, District Judge Michelle Amico ruled the government’s need for information overruled those rights.

It’s an issue that has never been before the Supreme Court, and one Lindecrantz thinks is unfamiliar territory.

“One of the things that the judge said is maybe it would cause others to take the road I was taking,” she said. “I was imagining 50 women in cape dresses and head coverings saying they won’t testify, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. . . .

“I would like everyone who would potentially be involved in a death penalty case to think about where they stand on it.”

Lindecrantz has decided she doesn’t have the energy to continue with death penalty mitigation work but is going to continue working in defense-victim outreach — an advocacy role in the field of restorative justice.

Judge Amico could rule soon on whether Ray’s sentence is overturned or if a new trial is necessary.

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