’I was shocked:’ Brother of death row inmate Stephen Stanko takes the stand on day two of hearing

Brother of Stephen Stanko takes the stand in day two of hearing

GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC (WMBF)- Stephen Stanko’s post-conviction hearing continued on Tuesday for the second day.

Stanko’s older brother, Jeffery Stanko, was the first witness to take the stand.

He said he was not asked to testify during the 2006 trial or the original post-conviction relief hearing. He said if he was, he would have appeared and admitted he was questioned by one member on Stanko’s original defense.

On Tuesday, Jeffery Stanko painted the picture of Stanko’s childhood. Their father’s military career moved the family frequently. He said their childhood was “relatively normal” and the two had a good relationship.

Jeffery Stanko described his younger brother as an extrovert, an excellent student, popular and an athlete. He also told the court the pair played baseball together and Stanko got hit in the head a few times.

After high school, Stanko didn’t get into the Air Force Academy. Jeffery Stanko testified it was then when Stanko started getting into trouble and making unfulfilling promises to people.

Jeffery Stanko told the court he visited his brother in Myrtle Beach a few times and met Laura Ling. He said Laura contacted him several times worried about Stephen Stanko contemplating suicide and later making unfulfilling promises to patrons at the library where she worked.

Despite his knowledge of his brother’s crimes, Jeffery Stanko said his brother was never violent.

“I was shocked,” Jeffery Stanko said recalling his reaction to Stanko’s murder of Ling. “I didn’t think he could perform that act.”

During his initial trial, Stanko’s attorneys argued he was insane at the time of the crime and Stanko was referred to as a “psychopath.” This defense was questioned in Tuesday’s hearing.

“I just didn’t think it was an accurate diagnosis, but I was never really asked my opinion about it. I was really just asked to assess the PET scans,” said Dr. Joseph Wu.

Wu testified in Stanko’s 2006 trial and analyzed PET scans of his brain. In the court on Tuesday he stood by his initial opinion that Stanko has abnormalities in the portion of his brain that regulates impulses and aggression.

However, Wu also told the court at the time of the original trial he wasn’t given any details on the case or access to records as he requested. He testified he had misgivings about the defense’s use of the word “psychopath."

Wu said since 2006, he has reviewed Stanko’s records and conducted a quantitative analysis to better understand what happened in Stanko’s brain during the murder of Ling.

“When an individual has some type of seizure disorder, it’s under extreme stress that this can trigger a psychotic- aggressive episode that they have very little memory of," Wu said.

The state pushed back against Wu’s testimony and pointed out no new PET scans had been conducted and Wu never formally met with Stanko.

The attorneys with the state also pointed out multiple other doctors testified in 2006 who had met with Stanko and had access to his records.

Stanko’s previous lawyer for his initial post-conviction hearing, Tristan Shaffer, called the original defense “awful.”

Shaffer was later found unqualified to represent Stanko in a post-conviction relief hearing. On Tuesday, he was also questioned on his approach to the first hearing in 2015.

Stanko is hoping to make the case that his 2006 murder trial was unfair and his lawyers were unqualified in representing him.

Stephen Stanko was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Laura Ling in 2006 and convicted in 2009 of killing 74-year-old Henry Turner. He was sentenced to death in both cases.

Stanko already had a post-conviction hearing for his 2006 trial but a judge later ruled his lawyers for the hearing were unqualified.

Tuesday’s hearing sought to determine if those lack of qualifications impacted the outcome of the 2015 hearing.

Each side concluded their arguments on Tuesday and the hearing is in review. Court will not resume Wednesday and the judge will issue his decision later.

This hearing has the potential to find Stanko’s 2006 trial unfair and provide the inmate with a new murder trial.

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