William Earl Lynd killed teacher on Christmas Day

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 25, 2007

JACKSON, Ga. — It’s a simple snapshot. The kind people post on the Web all the time to try to find dates or just friends.

The middle-aged man, who calls himself Earl, looks relatively innocuous — like a next-door neighbor or someone you’d see in the grocery store checkout line. What Earl is looking for is a pen pal and the description that he gives of himself reads almost lyrical.

“My passions are simple. I love the outdoors and nature and long rides through the country and mountains and a summer day on the beach. To me, this is art in its purest form.”

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Contrast this portrait of William Earl Lynd with the photograph the Georgia Department of Corrections has on its sex offenders Web site of the same man. Then maybe potential pen pals will understand why in writing Earl Lynd, they will have to add No. 437139, his inmate number, on the envelope because since 1990 home to Earl has been Geor-gia’s death row.

Today, Lynd waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether lethal injection — the method of execution in Georgia — is cruel and unusual punishment.

All his major grounds for appeals are exhausted.

Many states have stopped all executions until the high court’s decision. Georgia, however, had not. The state of Georgia had planned to schedule Lynd’s execution about a month ago after warrants for two older death penalty cases had been issued. Ten days are required between executions.

“Ours was the third one,” Berrien County District Attorney Catherine Helms explained in a phone interview on Thursday. “Before our date came up to get the warrant, Georgia Supreme Court issued a stay pending the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court on lethal injection. A ruling could come anytime, but I would not anticipate anything before spring.”

As victims’ families and death penalty opponents wait, this is a look at the two cases that put Lynd where he is today, as told mainly in newspaper accounts and facts given by the Georgia Supreme Court.

A request by The Ironton Tribune to interview Lynd was denied. It is the policy of the Georgia Department of Corrections to prohibit death row inmates from giving interviews.

Phone calls to Tom Dunn, the attorney listed for Lynd in a news story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published on Oct. 4, were not returned.

Many in Lawrence County still remember the story of William Earl Lynd, a South Point native who committed a Christmas day murder in 1988.

Detroit teacher Leslie JoAnn Starkey, 42 and a native of Huntington, W.Va., was driving home early Christmas morning to spend the holidays with her family in the area. A home economics teacher at a middle school, Starkey was described at the time of her death by her colleagues as a dedicated educator who wanted her students to focus on the positives in life.

As Starkey was driving down U.S. 52, Lynd, also in a car, pulled in behind her, flashing his headlights.

Concerned something was wrong, she drove into the well-lighted parking lot of the Kmart in Chesapeake. Both got out and Lynd told her there were sparks coming out of the back of her car.

He offered to drive to the nearest phone and call Starkey’s parents in Huntington. She agreed. He then returned, claiming he had gotten in touch with her father.

Starkey got back in her car and got as far as the West 17th Street bridge at Huntington when she got out of the car again and was attacked by Lynd, who had been following her.

Starkey, who had been smoking a cigarette, jabbed the lighted end into Lynd’s face. He retaliated, shooting the young woman three times — in the neck, right shoulder and left hand. Bleeding profusely, she got back into her car, driving as far as the Chesapeake bypass on Ohio 7 where she stopped and somehow got the attention of a motorist.

Then taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center, Starkey died a day later just before she was to undergo surgery. However, she was able to give law enforcement officers a relatively complete account of her ordeal.

With that statement the manhunt for the 33-year-old Lynd began.

Tragically, as the case unfolded, it would prove not to be Lynd’s only murder.

Days before the Starkey attack, Lynd, living in Georgia, got into a fight with his girlfriend, Virginia “Ginger” Moore at the home they shared. Angry, he shot the woman in the face and then went outside to smoke.

Moore struggled to get outside where Lynd shot her a second time, according to an account by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Next he put the unconscious woman into the trunk of his car and drove off. But Moore was not dead.

As he heard “thumping around” in the trunk, Lynd stopped the car and opened the trunk, shooting her a third time. This time the bullet did its job.

On Feb. 19, 1990, Lynd was brought to trial in Georgia and nine days later convicted of kidnapping with bodily injury and murder and sentenced to death.

A year to the date of his Georgia trial Lynd was back in Ohio to face aggravated murder charges — a capital crime — in the death of Starkey,

pleaded guilty to an amended charge of murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life with his term to run concurrently with his sentence in Georgia.

Now Lynd waits.

As horrific as his wanton actions were, the story is not a new one.

Kidnapping, sex offenses, assault. Lynd knew life behind bars well. And yet until these two murders, his time there was apparently short-term.

In Sept. 28, 1975, he pleaded guilty to the unlawful imprisonment of an Ashland woman abducted from a parking lot on Feb. 25, 1975.

In June 29, 1979, he was convicted of sexually abusing a Texas woman at knifepoint and sentenced to 25 years. He was released after the woman recanted the accusation.

Almost three years later, he pleaded guilty to forcing a Huntington minor to engage in oral sex in an encounter that occurred the fall before he was sentenced in Texas.

If Lynd is alive in two years, he will have spent 20 years on death row. Seemingly a long time, but not an aberration in the criminal justice system.

“It’s totally normal,” Helms said. “That is the way the death penalty appeals go.”