Posted: April 25, 2002
There aren't many women on death row, and Lynda Lyon is not like most of them.
Lyon faces an execution date of May 10, 2002, for her role in the fatal shooting of Opelika, Alabama, police sergeant Roger Motley in 1993. The murder was the last stop in a frenzied journey through involvement with anti-government extremist ideologies and movements.
According to Lyon, the state of Alabama should not be recognized and lawyers, judges, even police officers are all in their positions illegally. In Lyon's world, and that of her common law husband, George Sibley, Jr. (also awaiting execution for the same incident), even birth certificates are fraudulent.
Duct Tape and Missing Amendments
Lyon, daughter of an Orlando socialite, toured the country by motorcycle and sailboat when she was young. As she grew older, she developed distinctly anti-government views, irritated by what she thought was government infringement on individual rights through taxation and regulations. Like many such people, she joined the Libertarian Party, a fringe political party that advocates severe cutbacks in government power. In these social circles, Lyon crossed paths with Sibley, another activist who shared Lyon's views. Together they used Sibley's money to finance Lyon's fledgling newsletter, in which they espoused anti-government sentiments and wrote articles on such subjects as avoiding income tax. They had become active in the sovereign citizen movement, a right-wing anti-government movement that believes the government is illegitimate.
The couple first encountered trouble not with the government, though, but rather with Lyon's ex-husband. Lyon was previously married to Karl Block, then 80, with whom she had had a son in 1984. In 1991, Block and Lyon separated and Block moved into an apartment. A year later, Block petitioned the court for ownership of their home. This was too much for Lyon, angry at both Block and the courts.
Lyon and Sibley, determined to take the matter into their own hands, showed up at Block's apartment, duct taped his mouth shut, and forced him into a chair. Telling Block "I mean business," Lyon stabbed her ex-husband with a small knife and ordered him to drop his efforts to acquire the house. Lyon then used duct tape to bandage the wound closed and suggested Block go to a drugstore for a self-adhesive bandage.
The couple was later charged with aggravated battery on a person older than 65. Block decided not to press charges, but because of the nature of the case, the state attorney's office decided to pursue it anyway. In July 1993, a deal was struck: prosecutors would recommend probation if Sibley and Lyon pleaded no contest. The judge set sentencing for September 7, but that date was never met.
Instead of showing up in court, Lyon and Sibley began to file court papers based on their sovereign citizen pseudolegal theories. They withdrew their plea and decided to pursue a "Missing Thirteenth Amendment" strategy instead. Many sovereign citizens believe that there is a missing amendment to the Constitution, ratified by the states but covered up by conspirators, which prohibits lawyers from being citizens of the United States. Their bizarre belief centers on an actual proposed amendment (passed by Congress early in the 19th century but never ratified by the states) that would have denied citizenship to people with "titles of nobility," such as princes and dukes. Anti-government activists argue that lawyers are "titles of nobility" because they use the word "esquire" after their name and are thus not really American citizens.
Lyon and Sibley claimed that Circuit Judge James Hauser was an illegal alien because he used a title of nobility ("The Honorable James Hauser"). Furthermore, they renounced all ties to the federal and state governments, because such ties--such as driver's licenses and social security numbers--supposedly bound them into a "contract" with said governments. Lynda Lyon even renounced her birthdate, stating that "Only very recently have I discovered that I do not have, nor have I ever had, a date of birth."
Lyon and Sibley did not appear in court on their scheduled day. Instead, according to a letter they faxed to Judge Hauser, the county sheriff and the local newspaper, they "have now barricaded ourselves in our home here in Orlando, Florida, awaiting the inevitable attempt of the sheriff [sic] deputies to surround us and take us by force...We will not live as slaves--but would rather die as free Americans." Law enforcement officers eventually arrived at the couple's residence, only to find that Lyon and Sibley had grown tired of waiting and had fled the state in their Ford Mustang, taking with them Lynda's 9-year old son, Gordon, as well as handguns, automatic weapons, and more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition.
Shootout in Opelika
For a while Lyon and Sibley kept a low profile, staying at a safe house in Georgia, then moving on into Alabama. On October 4, 1993, Lyon and Sibley stopped at a Wal-Mart in Opelika, Alabama, to make a purchase and a telephone call.
Lyon left Sibley and Gordon in the car while she went to use the telephone. But Gordon, who was frightened about the situation he was in, mouthed the words "help me" to a passing Wal-Mart customer. The woman saw an Opelika police cruiser in the parking lot and told Sergeant Roger Motley about the boy in the Mustang.
Motley approached the vehicle and asked Sibley for his driver's license, but Sibley replied that he had "no contracts with the state." When the officer asked Sibley to step away from the car, Sibley refused. Motley made a motion for his holstered gun and a volatile Sibley pulled his own weapon out and began shooting at the policeman.
Caught off guard and unaware that such a scene would play out, Motley tried to get to his vehicle and call for backup. Sibley chased after him, firing at the officer's back. Lynda Lyon, at the phone booth, turned around when she heard shots. She dropped the phone and ran towards Motley, who was unaware of her presence or approach from behind. When she reached him, she stopped, pulled out a gun and shot at him several times, hitting him in the chest as he turned around to face her. The couple fled as the fatally wounded Motley crawled into his police cruiser and radioed for help--he died shortly thereafter at a hospital. Motley left behind a wife, two children and two stepchildren.
Lyon and Sibley immediately fled the scene. Authorities soon caught up with them and a four-hour standoff ensued before Lyon and Sibley eventually surrendered. The two sovereign citizens refused to leave their car. During negotiations they demanded a color television set and an audience with the pope but eventually surrendered without either. Gordon was placed with foster parents while Linda and George were arrested and charged with capital murder.
Sibley and Lyon, who admitted to the murder but claimed it was justified, were eventually convicted and sentenced to death, beginning a long stay on death row as the only man and wife couple facing execution.
Even on death row, Sibley and Lyon refused to drop their extreme anti-government ideology. Lyon occasionally published a newsletter for her supporters outside prison. Several years after their conviction, Lyon and Sibley dismissed their court appointed legal counsel, challenging the constitutionality of the "American Bar Association's monopoly of America's judicial system" and using the "Missing Thirteenth Amendment" to claim they should never have been arrested or prosecuted, an argument that had little weight with the courts. The couple has consistently refused any appeals or assistance from attorneys.
Lyon is the first of the two to face execution. This in itself is an unusual event: today women compose only 1.4 percent of the death row population, while an even smaller group of women are actually executed. Since 1976 only eight women have been put to death in the United States. The last execution of a woman in Alabama occurred 45 years ago.
Lyon's execution was first scheduled for April 19, 2002, the seventh anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh in 1995. Presumably realizing the unfortunate coincidence, Alabama officials pushed the date back to May 10. Assuming her execution is not commuted or further delayed, Linda Lyon will join McVeigh among those put to death in recent years for violent actions they took in furtherance of extreme beliefs.