These guys are talking about control.

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48 Hours Murder Of His Mind 01.13.07 Run Dates

01.13.07 48 Hours Murder On His Mind

09.01.07 48 Hours Murder On His Mind




review episode



01.17.07 ML Paul Bialek 24:00 "Stink" "my father has prescriptions" -Possible pharmaceuticals links Stephen Stanko


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Murder On His Mind
Can Scientific Images Show What's In The Mind Of A Murderer?

In the summer of 2006, in what is known as low country South Carolina just north of Charleston, for a change it wasn't the heat everyone was talking about – it was the havoc one man wreaked on this small coastal community.

As correspondent Troy Roberts reports, Stephen Stanko faced a six-count indictment, including murder and kidnapping. It was the county's first death penalty case in nearly a decade and Stanko stood accused of committing some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in Georgetown in recent memory.

Prosecutor Greg Hembree says Stanko is a cold-blooded killer. "He has no remorse," he says.

It’s hard to believe that Hembree is talking about the same highly intelligent, seemingly polite 38-year-old, who excelled in school and was described in his yearbook as the all-American boy.

Friends and family say it was that quiet confidence and intelligence that first attracted 43-year-old Laura Ling to Stanko when they met in the fall of 2004.

"He seemed just so pleasant. And solicitous. And just attentive to her. And just so normal," remembers Laura's sister Victoria Loy.

They knew each other just two months before Stanko moved in with Laura and her teenage daughter, and from all accounts everyone got along.

"My life with Laura was unconditional," says Stanko. "I loved her, she loved me. We never judged each other."

But then came the early morning hours of April 8, 2005, when Stanko simply snapped.

As the lead investigator on the scene, Lieutenant Bill Pierce arrived at the Ling home and learned the grisly details. "Some time after midnight there was an altercation between Laura Ling and her live-in boyfriend Stephen Stanko," Pierce says.

Stanko says Laura had slapped him and that a lit cigarette in his hand got lodged between his glasses and burned him. He says it's the last thing he remembers.

Lt. Pierce says Stanko bound Laura's hands behind her back, beat her and then turned his attention to her daughter, who was asleep in her bed.

Laura’s daughter, who 48 Hours has agreed not to identify, was the prosecution’s key witness. "He told me 'Scream and I will kill you both.' I wanted to get to my mom and tell her 'We have to get out of here,'" she testified.

"I first looked in my mom’s room I saw her lying on the floor and I heard her moaning and kicking. She was incoherent and she was trying to say something or do something but she couldn’t and the next thing I know I was hit over the head with something and I blacked out," Laura's daughter testified.

When she regained consciousness, Stanko was on top of her. "I fought him, I kicked and kicked," the teen testified. "He was so strong, he was so strong. He then proceeded to rape me."

Hembree says that at some point, Stanko turned Laura on her stomach and choked her to death. And then, her daughter testified, he held her head up from behind and slit her throat twice.

After the attacks, Stanko took a shower, where he claims he regained his memory. When he walked into the bedroom, he says "I felt for a pulse on both of them. And there was no pulse."

"I ended up packin' and leavin'," he tells Roberts. "I really wanted to kill myself."

Laura's daughter survived and eventually managed to reach for a phone to call 911.


Stanko stole Laura’s car, went to the ATM machine and emptied her bank account. He then drove to nearby Conway, S.C., where his friend and business associate, 74-year-old Henry Turner, lived.

Hembree says Stanko woke up Turner and told him his father had died. Turner consoled Stanko and gave him something to eat. After breakfast, Hembree says investigators believe Stanko came up behind him and fired one shot into Turner's back. "Turner then spun around and Stanko fired another shot into the chest of Henry Turner," Hembree says.

By this time, a nationwide manhunt was underway.

Stanko was now armed with a gun and more money, both of which he stole from Turner. To further elude authorities, he ditched Laura’s car and took Turner’s truck. And while most fugitives at this point would hide out, Stanko wasn’t your average fugitive.

Hembree says Stanko headed to Columbia, S.C. where he went to a happy hour.

The next day, Hembree says, he ended up in Augusta, Ga, on the same weekend of the Masters Golf Tournament.

That Saturday night, Stanko once again hit the bars. This time he was mixing and celebrating with the crowds that had gathered for the golf tournament

While out, he met a young woman, Dana Putnam. Charmed, Putnam would testify that she spent the entire evening with Stanko, even bringing him home and allowing him to sleep on her couch.

That Sunday morning, the two of them went to church together; over the next couple of days, an unsuspecting Dana Putnam found herself being courted by a cold blooded killer.

Putnam was at work when she got a call from a friend, who told her to open the newspaper, where she saw a photo of Stanko.

She immediately went to the sheriff’s department, where authorities tapped her cell phone and monitored Stanko’s calls.

Just five days after killing Henry Turner and Laura Ling and raping her teenage daughter, Stanko had romance on his mind, telling Putnam, "I miss you. It’s almost a physical missing you…my stomach is in a knot.”

Within hours of that call, it was finally over for Stanko, as U.S. marshals, SWAT teams, and local authorities surrounded him in a parking lot in Augusta.

In the opening arguments of Stanko's murder trial, his attorney William Diggs asked jurors, "How could a human being do this to someone that they loved, someone that they needed, someone they depended on?"

"Laura Ling was one of maybe two people in the world who were willing to help him at this point. It makes absolutely no sense that he would just kill her for no reason. What's the motivation here?" Diggs said.

Diggs had to try and defend his client against damning evidence

As it turned out, Laura was not the first woman to suffer at the hands of Stanko: Elizabeth McClendon first met him 14 years ago. Soon after moving in together, McClendon realized Stanko was not the man she thought he was.

"I was becoming very upset with Stephen because I felt like I wasn’t getting the whole truth, that things were beginning to take place that I did not like," McClendon testified.

McClendon tells Roberts Stanko stole items from her, including checks, paintings and jewelry.

By February 1996, McClendon finally had enough of the lies and cons and told Stanko it was time for him to move out.

The next morning, she says, is when everything came crashing down. "He stood at the foot of my bed and he had this horrible look on his face and I said 'What are you doing?' And he said 'I’m getting ready to leave' and I said 'What is that, that I smell? Are you cleaning the house?'" she testified.

"At that moment, he jumped over me with the cloth that was drenched in Clorox and 409 mixture that he'd made up. And he proceeded to try to suffocate me," McClendon tells Roberts. "He flipped me on my stomach. And he put the pillow over my head and was holding me down and his hand was here. He did say, 'I don't know why this isn't working. It worked in the movie.' And I thought, 'Well, he's gonna kill me. I am going to die.'"

She did everything she could to fight him off. Bound and gagged, McClendon says Stanko dragged her into the bathroom, made her sit on the toilet while he was in the shower, humming, like it was just another normal morning.

But Stanko says he has little memory of the events from that morning, just like the black out he claims to have experienced during the Ling attacks.

Asked if he remembered doing that, Stanko says no but does acknowledge he restrained McClendon. But he denies he was trying to kill her.

Stanko was arrested three days after the attack on McClendon and pled guilty to charges of kidnapping and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a ten-year prison term but was released after eight and a half years. Just two months later, he met Laura, a librarian and divorced mother of three.

Stanko says he was forthright about having served time behind bars. But he was a little fuzzy with the details.

Laura was never given the full story from Stanko about the McClendon attack when she asked him to move in with her and her teenage daughter.

Ling's daughter says she made fun of her mom when learning about Stanko's stint in prison. "I kinda said, 'Well, gee mom, thanks for bringing home an ex-convict.' But you know she really liked helping people. And Stephen seemed like this great guy that didn't have a great past, and wanting to start over and start a new beginning."

From all accounts, Laura was happy, seemingly unaware that Stanko was back to running cons.

He was telling people he had a degree in engineering, was a paralegal, that he owned restaurants and even admits that he practiced law without a license.

"Yeah, I was doin' things that I should not have been doin' without a license. Yes, sir," Stanko tells Roberts.

Hembree speculates Laura may have learned what was going on and confronted Stanko and that this led to his rampage

The physical evidence against Stanko was overwhelming but the defense believes it had uncovered new evidence – medical evidence that just might sway a jury.

His defense team, for the first time in South Carolina’s history, would try to show jurors an actual picture of what insanity looks like.


Growing up in Goose Creek, S.C., Stanko, along with his four siblings, was raised under his parents’ close supervision. His father was very strict and Stanko says he had high expectations for his son.

Stanko had high expectations as well. His dream was to attend the United States Air Force Academy.

But during his senior year in high school, everything changed when he wasn't admitted to the academy. It was a setback Stanko says he never recovered from.

After finishing high school, Stanko spent a short time in community college. But he lost interest and turned to a life of petty crime, small hustles, small lies and small cons.

But small time cons pale in comparison to the violent crimes Stanko was on trial for in Georgetown.

Although Stanko has been treated in the past for personality disorders, attorney Diggs believes his client is suffering from a far more serious condition.

To prove that, Diggs hired a team of medical experts from around the country. Using cutting-edge PET scan imaging technology, they put Stanko under the "microscope," analyzing both the structure of his brain, and more importantly, how it functions. What they found surprised them all.

Dr. Thomas Sachy, neuro psychiatrist and founder of Georgia Pain and Behavioral Medicine, evaluated Stanko’s test results for the defense.

“Mr. Stanko's brain showed decreased function in the medial orbital frontal lobes of his brain,” Dr. Sachy tells Roberts.

Looking at images of Stanko's brain function, Dr. Sachy explained that one region of the brain directly above the eyes and behind the eyebrows is less functional as compared to a normal brain.

Asked why this is significant, Sachy says, "Well, it's very significant, because it is this area of the brain that essentially makes us human.”

“People with damage to that area of the brain become anti-social," Dr. Sachy says. "They're more likely to be impulsive. They're more likely to be aggressive and violent.”

For almost three days, the court heard from a team of medical experts. This mountain of complicated scientific theory eventually boiled down to one very simple idea: “My diagnosis is Mr. Stanko is a psychopath,” Dr. Sachy said on the stand.

Asked by the defense if Stanko chose to be a psychopath, Dr. Sachy testified, "No. Mr. Stanko, nor the other psychopaths that we know about, have not made a conscious decision to be psychopathic. They have a brain abnormality that has been forced upon them by bad luck or God or genes or what have you.”

According to the expert witnesses, Stanko suffered medical complications shortly after birth, including jaundice and a blockage in his airway that may have deprived his brain of oxygen. "I suspect that, at that time, the damage was done and his brain, though he appeared to develop normally, this particular area of the brain did not,” Sachy says.

Diggs is convinced that all the evidence presented amounts to an extremely persuasive argument.

“He was insane. That is the only verdict that’s justified by the evidence in this case,” Diggs told the jury.


Prosecutor Greg Hembree dismisses Stanko’s defense with just two words: "junk science."

"I've seen the images. And I'm not persuaded. But I'm not persuaded not because of what I can see, but because of what other experts look at and tell me," Hembree says.

Although they were looking at the same PET scan results, prosecution experts did not see what the defense says is very clearly a brain abnormality.

A prosecution expert testified Stanko's brain scan was perfectly normal and that there were no signs of mental disease or a mental defect.

Hembree now tried to score points by cross examining defense witnesses to prove these complications at birth had nothing to do with his crime spree 38 years later.

For two days prosecution witnesses testified that although Stanko had some serious problems, insanity wasn’t one of them. A prosecution expert diagnosed Stanko with a personality disorder.

Roger Turner, the son of Stanko's last victim Henry Turner, believes the insanity defense is simply Stanko’s final con. "He had planned this, okay?" Turner says. "I think it is so outlandish, it’s so preposterous that it’s fabricated."

Turner and Stanko spent a lot of time together and Stanko says he was a friend and a "quasi-father" to him. Stanko refused to discuss the details surrounding the Henry Turner shooting, since he has yet to be tried for that murder

Asked what provokes him to act out violently, Stanko says, "Usually it's when I'm confronted with violence. I mean, the only times that it's ever happened is when I was confronted with violence.

Stanko maintains that both Elizabeth McClendon and Laura Ling provoked him before their attacks.

But Laura’s ex-husband Chris Ling has his own theory: that Stanko is simply just a bull. "Stephen Stanko is insane when he knows that he's dealing with young women, women and old men," he says.

To back that up, Chris Ling points to Stanko’s prison record. "During his incarceration, he was considered somewhat of a model prisoner, never got in many fights. And the reason for this is because he's a coward," he says.

"I have thought about why I didn't kill somebody in prison," Stanko says. "The one thing I never did in prison was fight somebody when nobody else was around."

Stanko told Roberts he had 39 fights during his time in prison, but when 48 Hours checked, there was no record of any such violent behavior.

The murder trial has never been about who committed these heinous crimes, but rather if Stanko should be held responsible for them. And as they made their final arguments, the state and the defense had very different opinions of who this man is.

"His brain made him do it. It's on its own. Just goes and does things. And well I'm over here. My brain's out running around murdering and raping people,” prosecutor Hembree told jurors during closing arguments.

"That’s where the brain defect, the mental defect is. That’s where the ability to distinguish between right and wrong is. He doesn’t have the brain function to do that, to make that distinction!" defense attorney Diggs argued.

Now, 12 jurors had to decide if Stanko was of sound mind when he killed Laura Ling and raped her teenage daughter; and if he was, should he die for it?

After deliberating just two hours, the jury rendered a verdict, finding Stephen Stanko guilty of killing Laura Ling and raping her teenage daughter. Jurors had rejected the insanity defense.

Stanko, who never took the stand, showed no emotion as the guilty verdicts on the other counts were read.

Just one week after finding Stanko guilty of killing Laura, the same jury had to rule on whether Stanko would live or die.

"We've already won. Stephen Stanko is never gonna be a free man. He may victimize someone in the prison system but he'll never victimize another free citizen," Hembree said.

Once again, after two hours, the jury returned, recommending the death penalty.


Laura's ex-husband Chris Ling didn't mince words, when he reacted after the sentence in the hall. "The process works and we’ll be putting down someone that victimizes old men and little girls. I’ve got the most courageous daughter in the world and I love her. Thank you.”

After the trial, 48 Hours brought together some of the jurors, who had no regrets about the decision, including forewoman Pat Lawford.

"I had a lot of peace about the decision we made. I felt it was the right decision,” says Lawford.

Asked whether they were all at peace with the decision to find Stanko guilty and sentence him to death, the entire assembled group nodded.

"Could a sane person someone who possesses all the mental faculties carry out this crime?” Roberts asked.

"Yes,” one of the jurors replied.

"I think it is possible to commit this sort of crime and not be insane,” Lawford said.

The jurors also explained why they rejected the brain science.

"Well, I’ll be honest with you when we went in deliberation with that PET scan and all that computerized stuff they did, I said 'I felt like I’d been dazzled by brilliance and baffled with b.s. That’s how I felt. I found the state’s witnesses much more credible than the defense," juror Donald Horton says.

What the jurors did believe and found most compelling was the testimony of Stanko’s two victims - the traumatized 16-year-old who lived to make that 911 call and take the stand and the testimony of her murdered mother.

“When the forensic doctor who performed the autopsy on Laura Ling came down from the witness stand, she had a diagram of a woman's body. And, had outlined every single injury that she had to her body," one juror explained. "And, I thought, 'You know, Laura Ling's not here to speak for herself. But, she has spoken.'”

Although in the end, they failed to prove their case, lead defense expert Dr. Sachy still believes in the science.

“Mr. Stanko had no defense except science," Sachy says. "Mr. Stanko had a defense that was at the cutting edge of science and far beyond, where the laws of this country are right now.”

Asked if he sees long term value in this science, Dr. Sachy says, "This will be the standard of forensic investigation and medical care in this field in the future."

But left to deal with the present is Laura Ling’s daughter, who clings to the good memories of her mother. “She was smart. And she was funny. She was beautiful. She was the kind of girl you wanted to be friends with. She was just warm and inviting,“ she remembers.

“I don't know if I'll ever forgive him for what he did to my mom, but I've come to the point where I can honestly say that I do forgive him for what he did to me," Laura's daughter adds. "I refuse to let him take away anything more than what he's already taken. And I refuse to sit here and hate him and never be able to move on and never be able to move past this. And I'm not gonna do that.”


Stanko must still stand trial for the murder of Henry Turner. A date of execution has been set for October, 2007. He will have a choice of the electric chair or lethal injection.