Originally created 08/08/06

Stanko jurors seated



GEORGETOWN, S.C. - Even as he held down a 15-year-old girl he had beaten and raped, Stephen Stanko reached out and strangled a 43-year-old woman last year, a prosecutor told jurors during opening statements Monday.

Shortly after a jury of nine men and three women was seated, prosecutor Greg Hembree apologized to the jurors, saying they would have to consider graphic evidence in the case, which is expected to last into next week.

"It's horrible. It's disturbing, and I'm sorry we have to put you through it," Mr. Hembree said.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Mr. Stanko, 38, in the killing of his live-in girlfriend, Laura Ling, and in the sexual assault and beating of the teenage girl.

Defense attorney Bill Diggs told jurors that Mr. Stanko has a brain defect he suffered at birth.

Mr. Diggs told the jurors, who will be sequestered, that because of Mr. Stanko's brain problems he "operates on the border of sanity all of the time."

Mr. Stanko was indicted on charges of murder, assault and battery with intent to kill, criminal sexual conduct, armed robbery and kidnapping.

Mr. Hembree said that after the crimes April 8, 2005, Mr. Stanko packed a suitcase, took Ms. Ling's ATM card, emptied her account eluded police for days. He was arrested in Augusta on April 12 after authorities launched a nationwide manhunt.

Mr. Hembree called it "an absolute miracle" that the 15-year-old victim was able to regain consciousness and call police.

"Use your good judgment and your good common sense to reach a verdict that speaks the truth," he said

Mr. Stanko was released from a Ridgeville prison in July 2004 after serving more than eight years of a 10-year sentence on kidnapping charges in Berkeley County.

Mr. Stanko is also charged with killing Henry Lee Turner, 74, of Conway whose body was found about 24 hours after Ms. Ling's slaying. A trial date has not been set in the Horry County case.