“I feel like I’m having to choose between you and God.”
That’s what Greta Lindecrantz, a 67-year-old Mennonite, told an Arapahoe County, Colo., district judge on Wednesday after she ordered her to testify for the prosecution in a death-penalty case — or remain in jail for contempt of court.
Lindecrantz had been behind bars since Monday. As she spoke, wearing a jail jumpsuit and shackles on her arms, supportive Mennonites sang hymns outside the courtroom, according to the Daily Journal.
“This is now me telling you directly … and I’m ordering you to answer the questions,” Judge Michelle Amico had told Lindecrantz in court Monday, according to the Colorado Independent. “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 responded from the witness stand. “I don’t believe in killing fellow human beings or participating in that.”
Lindecrantz spent her third night in jail Wednesday after she again refused to take the stand to answer questions from prosecutors in the death-sentence appeal case of Robert Ray.
Lindecrantz had worked as an investigator for Ray’s defense counsel in the mid-2000s. Ray, only one of three death-row inmates in Colorado, was convicted as an accessory to murder in the death of Gregory Vann and for ordering the murders of a witness, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, in 2005.
The couple, both 22, were shot and killed while driving down a street in Aurora, Colo., just before Marshall-Fields was slated to testify against Ray in court in the Gregory Vann case. Marshall-Fields had identified Ray as the getaway driver leaving the scene of Vann’s murder. Ray, out on bond at the time, was soon accused of ordering the killings, charged with first-degree murder and later sentenced to death. Ray’s accomplice who pulled the trigger, Sir Mario Owens, also received the death sentence.
Appealing his death sentence, Ray argued that his original defense lawyers were ineffective.
Prosecutors wanted to call Lindecrantz to the stand to testify about the work she did alongside those lawyers, in an effort to show that the legal counsel was sufficient and that his conviction should stand.
According to the Independent, prosecutors asked her more than 70 questions Monday. She refused to answer a single one.
“Do I follow the court’s word? Do I follow God’s word at the expense of my family and my husband?” she told the judge while sobbing, the Independent reported. “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.”
Mennonites oppose any form of violence. They have opposed war as conscientious objectors for decades. They oppose “hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment,” according to one of their religious tenets.
More recently, they have also staunchly opposed President Trump’s immigration executive actions, as they themselves as refugees were once banned from Canada. Generally known as apolitical, some Mennonites made headlines last year after they were seen protesting Trump in Pennsylvania, saying they felt they could no longer be silent.
This week, Mennonites from the Denver area’s two congregations, First Mennonite Church and Beloved Community Mennonite Church, packed Amico’s courtroom in support of Lindecrantz. The Rev. Vern Rempel of Beloved Community said he had counseled Lindecrantz before her Monday hearing about what she should do in court, as he told reporters during a news conference outside the courthouse. Mennonites, he said, had been opposing the death penalty since 1525.
Her refusal to answer questions “is not a mood of Greta’s, or a fancy, or something she’s making up,” he said, according to the Denver Post. “It has been a lifetime commitment for her.”
Mari Newman, Lindecrantz’s attorney, said she is working to appeal the contempt of court order, but that Amico would not allow Lindecrantz to remain free while the appeal is pending, as the Denver Post reported. Nor would she impose a lesser punishment, such as fines. “How would less punishment be effective?” the judge responded. “I’ve imposed jail and she’s still refusing to testify.”
“For the court to imprison her until she is broken, until her will is broken, and she abandons her faith and her view that she cannot participate in state-sanctioned killing is an abomination,” Newman said during the news conference.
Newman argued that the court can get the information it’s seeking from the attorneys with whom she worked, who have already been called to testify. “The pragmatic look at this thing is that the info they want her to confirm is information the prosecution has.”
Amico did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a representative for the Arapahoe District Attorney’s Office.
It’s unclear how long Lindecrantz will be jailed. She can be held as long as six months, according to her lawyer. She is being held without bail, and Amico has said she would only be freed once she agrees to start talking. She is unlikely to do that, said Lindecrantz’s husband, Dave Sidwell, who is also a Mennonite. Speaking to reporters Wednesday in the courthouse hallway, he said his wife was not one to veer from her convictions.
“I feel horrible for her,” he said. “I don’t think she’s feeling very well at all. But I don’t see any end in sight. I’m pretty sure in my heart she’s not going to change her position.”
State Sen. Rhonda Fields, the mother of one of the victims, Javad Marshall-Fields, told ABC News that Lindecrantz should not have gotten involved in a capital case in the first place if she had religious objections to taking the stand. “If she’s not going to testify, she should return her compensation,” said Fields, who got involved in politics as a result of her son’s murder.
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