Originally created 04/12/06

Stanko awaits trial in killing



One year ago today, a nationwide manhunt for a South Carolina fugitive ended in Augusta.

During the early afternoon of April 12, 2005, Stephen Stanko was enjoying lunch at the Atlanta Bread Co. at the Augusta Exchange shopping center.

But just before 3:30 p.m., as he crossed the restaurant's parking lot, authorities arrested him in connection with a double homicide and the rape of a teenage girl near Myrtle Beach, S.C., several days earlier.

Today, Mr. Stanko sits in a cell in the Georgetown County Detention Center awaiting his capital murder and rape trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 7 in Georgetown County, S.C., according to J. Gregory Hembree, solicitor for the state's 15th judicial circuit.

Jury qualification will begin Aug. 1, and the trial is expected to last another week after opening testimony begins Aug. 7, he said.

Mr. Hembree would not say why the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

"It's too serious a case for me to be playing fast and loose," Mr. Hembree said.

Mr. Stanko, now 38, is accused of strangling his live-in girlfriend, Laura Ling, 43, and raping a teenage girl living in the couple's Murrells Inlet, S.C., home on April 8, 2005, authorities said.

Police said Mr. Stanko, who was released from prison in 2004 after serving eight years of a 10-year sentence for kidnapping, then shot and killed Henry Lee Turner, 74, in Conway, S.C., and took his truck.

A trial date has not been set on those charges, Mr. Hembree said.

Mr. Stanko arrived in the Augusta area as early as April 9, joining thousands of tourists in town for the 2005 Masters Tournament, police said.

He befriended Augusta resident Dana Putnam, now 31, at Rhinehart's Oyster Bar on Washington Road, officials said. Ms. Putnam contacted Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength on April 12 when she recognized Mr. Stanko's picture in The Augusta Chronicle after authorities publicized the manhunt.

Ms. Putnam declined an interview for this article via e-mail.

"Even though we made the arrest, it was definitely based on everything we got from her," Sheriff Strength said. "She was the real hero here. Without her, we may not have taken him into custody here."

Ms. Putnam received an unknown amount of reward money from the U.S. Marshals Service, authorities said.

Last year, her father said she planned to share her reward money with the 15-year-old rape victim.

Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or kate.lewis@augustachronicle.com.

THEN AND NOW


Then: On April 12, 2005, federal, state and local authorities arrested Stephen Stanko, a fugitive wanted in two homicides and a rape in South Carolina, as he crossed a parking lot in the Augusta Exchange shopping center.

Now: Mr. Stanko is jailed at the Georgetown County Detention Center in South Carolina.