Colorado Mennonite investigator jailed for refusing to testify in death penalty case
A district judge in Arapahoe County, Colorado, found Greta Lindecrantz in contempt of court and put her in jail on February 26 for refusing on religious grounds to be a witness for the prosecution as it sought to reconfirm a death sentence at an appeals hearing.
Lindecrantz is a member of Beloved Community Mennonite Church, in Englewood, Colorado, which is part of a tradition opposed to executions. Vern Rempel, the congregation’s pastor, said that Lindecrantz sees her work as an investigator with legal defense teams as “resisting the use of the death penalty.” In this case, the prosecution is compelling her to testify about her investigative work in the case of a man who has been convicted of ordering two murders, according to news reports.
In the weeks before her court appearance, Rempel counseled Lindecrantz and gave her the opportunity to address the congregation about whether she would testify for the prosecution in any form.
“She agonized over it and then came to sense of clarity,” he said. “You could hear it in her voice and see it in her face.”
Lindecrantz and her attorney have suggested compromises, such as testifying in front of the judge rather than for the prosecution, but they were rejected. The judge has written that “allowing people to refuse to participate in death penalty cases on religious grounds would disrupt the justice system,” the Denver Post reported.
Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, told the newspaper that the prosecution could change its mind about whether it needs Lindecrantz to testify. However, her First Amendment rights do not apply in the matter.
“It’s well-established,” Leong said, “that any kind of religious view does not provide an exemption to criminal law.”
The case is being appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. Rempel’s understanding is that Lindecrantz could remain imprisoned at the Arapahoe County Detention Center for up to six months.
“She has very deliberately turned her attention to some of the other inmates and trying to connect with them,” Rempel said, “offer them some care and relationship.”
Members of their congregation and other local Mennonite churches are gathering each day and singing hymns outside of the county jail. They are also taking this as “a Kairos moment” in responding to the death penalty in their state.
“Since that is one of Greta’s great causes, it’s a way we can support her,” he said.
While Rempel and other Mennonites are seeking to bear witness to their beliefs, they also hope to build relationships with people who have different views.
“These things quickly turn into two sides: Are you opposed to the death penalty or are you for it? I don’t think that’s going to get us where we want to go,” he said. “The principalities and powers want to suck us into a polarized debate so that nothing gets done.”