SC man in deadly crime spree appealing 2nd death sentence

Stephen Stanko

COLUMBIA — A man who led authorities on a nationwide manhunt after a South Carolina killing spree in 2005 is appealing the second of his two death sentences.


Attorneys for Stephen Stanko, 44, are expected to argue before the state Supreme Court on Thursday that a juror should have been disqualified from Stanko’s second trial because she told the judge she knew the defendant already had one death sentence.

In court papers, attorneys also say the trial should have been held elsewhere because of publicity.

“This case was the most infamous and widely publicized case in Horry County that appellant is aware of, and if ever a case called for a change of venue it was this case,” Stanko’s appellate attorneys wrote.

At issue is Stanko’s death sentence in the slaying of Henry Turner, a 74-year-old man found dead in his Conway home in April 2005.

In Turner’s driveway, authorities found the car of Laura Ling, Stanko’s 43-year-old live-in girlfriend. Authorities say Stanko killed Ling in her Murrells Inlet home, assaulted her then-15-year-old daughter, then took off in Ling’s car.

Authorities say Stanko drove 25 miles north to the home of Turner, whom he knew through Ling’s library work, killed him with a shotgun, then left in his pickup truck.

In a manhunt that attracted national attention, Stanko eluded police for several days. Yet he made no attempt to hide, flirting with women in a downtown Columbia restaurant and claiming he was a millionaire visiting from New York.

When he was apprehended at a shopping center in Augusta, Stanko was clad in a suit and tie, still driving Turner’s truck. He had tried to blend in with thousands of tourists in town for the Masters golf tournament, and authorities said Stanko had already persuaded another woman to let him move in with her.

Stanko was first tried for Ling’s death, with his attorneys arguing that his life should be spared because he has a brain defect and couldn’t tell right from wrong. In 2006, a jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to die.

Stanko appealed that verdict. Attorneys had argued that he didn’t get a fair trial because the judge wouldn’t let lawyers ask potential jurors what they thought of an insanity defense. But state Supreme Court justices wrote that the jury selection process had been fair.

In 2009, jurors deliberated for just an hour before handing Stanko a second death sentence for killing Turner.

Before the deaths, Stanko received attention for a book he wrote about prison life. While serving more than eight years for kidnapping, he co-wrote Living in Prison: A History of the Correctional System, with the help of professors at East Tennessee State University.

Stanko was released in July 2004, less than a year before Ling and Turner were killed. Authorities said Stanko met Ling, a librarian, while finishing his book.

The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual assault, but in 2007 Ling’s daughter, Christina, asked to be identified. She told The AP then she hoped her story would help other assault victims.