Hearing for death row inmate Stephen Stanko seeks new trial for murder conviction

Stanko Hearing

Georgetown, SC (WMBF) - Convicted murderer Stephen Stanko appeared in Georgetown County court on Monday for a post-conviction relief hearing.

Stanko was sentenced to death for murdering his former girlfriend, Laura Ling, in 2006.

Monday’s hearing was the second post-conviction hearing for Stanko. A judge previously rules that the lawyers who represented Stanko in his original 2015 hearing were unqualified.

A post-conviction hearing is when convicted individual aims to prove that their original lawyer was incompetent and the original trial was unfair.

The goal of Monday’s hearing was to determine if the previous hearing’s lawyers' lack of qualification impacted the outcome of the original hearing.

Stanko’s lawyers also had to present claims for post-conviction relief that were not raised in the original hearing.

Stanko could face a new trial for the murder of Laura Ling in the most extreme outcome of this week’s hearing.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s office is fighting against Stanko’s appeal and argued he should not receive a new trial.

Attorneys representing Stanko brought multiple witnesses to the stand on Monday, including a former warden at Turbeville Correctional Institute, Ralph Beadsly.

Stanko served time at Turbeville for a kidnapping conviction before his crime spree in the Grand Strand.

Bradley recalled Stanko as a model inmate who was trusted and participated in many programs that helped other inmates.

“He would be the type of individual that most wardens would love to have," Beadsly said.

A majority of the hearing was focused on Stanko’s initial trial. Lawyers on both sides aimed to investigate if the 2006 trial was fair.

Former juror, Dave Dubois told the courtroom before he was selected he admitted to feeling strongly that Stanko had committed the crime.

“We were given an opportunity to explain why we didn’t think we should serve and I said flat out, ‘Because I believe he is guilty,'" Dubois testified on Monday.

Dubois also testified that his daughter went to school with Ling’s daughter at the time and he recognized one of the police officers involved. The former juror also told the judge at the time that he could remain objective and he didn’t remember when he found out his daughter was acquaintances with Ling’s daughter.

Gerald Kelly, a former attorney on Stanko’s defense team, testified on how Stanko was represented.

Kelly said there was no doubt in his mind that Stanko committed the crimes.

He said it was clear Stanko was mentally ill but he did not think Stanko was insane at the time of the crime.

Kelly focused on the facts around the incident while Stanko’s lead attorney Bill Diggs focused on the medical argument.

In his 2006 trial, Stanko’s attorney’s used the insanity defense.

“He’s a gentle, genuinely nice man,” Diggs told the courtroom on Monday. “I can’t imagine him doing what was done in this case without some reason, that’s why we went in the direction we did.”

Stanko’s lawyers on Monday also focused on the defense’s use of the word ‘psychopath’ and the comparison to Stanko to other serial killers during his 2006 trial.

Ultimately, no decision was reached on Monday.

The court will resume Tuesday morning at the Georgetown County courthouse.

In 2009, Stanko was also convicted of the murder of 74-year-old Henry Turner of Conway and was sentenced to death. A judge previously denied Stanko’s request for post-conviction relief for his Horry County crimes, according to WMBF News partner My Horry News.

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