Trial begins in death of mother, kids

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

CLAYTON, Mo. -- A jury seated Monday in the trial of a Joplin, Mo., man charged in a family's slaying should expect to see some disturbing evidence -- including crime-scene photos of the pregnant mother dead with her three young children, a defense attorney cautioned.

"This is a very emotional case," Beth Kerry, an attorney for borderline mentally retarded Harold "Bobby" Lingle, told the roughly 60 prospective jurors eventually winnowed to the panel of seven men and five women, with a man and woman tapped as alternates.

Opening arguments were expected today at the St. Louis County Courthouse, where the Greene County case is being heard on a change of venue. Judge Henry Westbrooke said the trial, during which Lingle's mental capacity will be a focal point, should last through Friday.

Lingle is charged with five first-degree murder counts in the deaths of Erin Vanderhoef, her full-term fetus and her three children, ages 9 to 11. Prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty. If convicted, Lingle would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lingle is accused of assisting in the Jan. 19, 1999, killings to help friend Richard DeLong -- and in exchange, get $250 worth of methamphetamine.

DeLong was convicted in June of five counts of first-degree murder and is serving life without parole.

On Monday, Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore asked would-be jurors whether they knew anyone mentally retarded or with learning disabilities. "The question is, does that experience taint you?" he asked.

Lingle doesn't have the mental capacity to be guilty of premeditated murder, his attorneys said, and both sides plan to tap their own psychiatric experts to testify about Lingle's mental capacity.

Bevy Beimdiek, another Lingle attorney, told a reporter during a recess Monday that the defense has subpoenaed DeLong to testify, though she declined to say if he would take the stand.

Lingle's attorneys would not say whether their client would testify.

Murder sequence

At DeLong's trial, witnesses testified that Lingle and DeLong drove from their Joplin homes to Springfield, Mo., on the morning of the killings Jan. 19, 1999. Lingle then lured Erin Vanderhoef, nine months pregnant with DeLong's baby, out of her house by suggesting they go to the grocery store to buy milk and doughnuts for everyone.

While they were gone, DeLong strangled her 9-year-old daughter, Darlene Vanderhoef; her 11-year-old son, Jimmy Vanderhoef; and his 10-year-old brother, Chris Franklin.

When Lingle and Vanderhoef returned from the store, prosecutors said, Lingle then helped DeLong kill the pregnant woman.

Lingle demonstrated for police during interrogations how he held the victims' hands. When the killings were over, he said, he threw up.

Stacie Leffingwell, DeLong's girlfriend, also was charged in the killings but died in jail of complications from AIDS while awaiting trial.

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