Fighting an Execution in 'John Ashcroft Country'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:03 PM EDT

( - Using John Ashcroft's name as a code-word for homophobia, opponents of capital punishment are trying to stop a convicted killer from being executed Tuesday night in Missouri.

Stanley Lingar, his attorneys argue, was sentenced to death in what they call "John Ashcroft country" only because prosecutors mentioned Lingar's homosexuality in their arguments before the jury.

"His sexual orientation offended the jury... they decided that they should kill him because he was a deviant," attorney Kent Gipson is quoted as saying.

Lingar is on death row for the 1985 murder of a 16-year-old honor student whose car ran out of gas. Lingar and his male lover gave the teenager a ride, then beat him with a tire iron, shot him three times and ran over him with their car when he rebuffed their sexual suggestions.

In the effort to spare Lingar's life, Gipson said testimony about Lingar's homosexuality -- "especially in rural Missouri in John Ashcroft country" -- caused jurors to impose the death penalty. John Ashcroft, a former senator from and governor of Missouri, was confirmed as U.S. attorney general last week.

At his recent -- and contentious -- confirmation hearing, his critics tried very hard to portray Ashcroft as a homophobe. James Hormel, the homosexual former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, was among those accusing Ashcroft of an "anti-gay prejudice," which might affect how he handles the attorney general's job. Ashcroft and his supporters say Ashcroft opposed Hormel's appointment for other reasons.

Barring a last minute reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court or Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, Lingar will be executed Tuesday night.

"Stanley Lingar committed an incredibly heinous crime," Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon is quoted as saying.

"He abducted a kid, made him strip in the back of a car, and when he [the teenager] wouldn't perform, he shot him, beat him with a tire piece and ran him over. He has gone through 15 years of appeals ... these are long and difficult cases but he was given a lot more rights than he gave his victim."