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Sonia Linder hugs her baby, Tina, shortly before the shooting incident that lead to her arrest

  Pretty Sonia Linder, a 28-year-old mother of two, is a reluctant member of the country's most exclusive club. She is one of only five women in the United States living on Death Row.

  In an exclusive interview from her cell in Florida's Lowell Institute for the Rehabilitation of Prisoners, she told THE STAR of the agonies of life in the shadow of the electric chair.

  Linder was convicted and sentenced to death in February last year for her part in the slaying of two policemen, Patrolman Philip Black, 39, and a visiting Canadian Constable, David Irwin.

  Eyewitnesses told the court she had blazed away at the men before giving a gun to her boyfriend Jess Tefaro, who then killed the cops.

  The killers had been stopped for a routine check on Interstate 95 near Deerfield Beach, Florida.

  Tefaro, a convicted rapist and robber before the murders, now also awaits execution on Death Row.

  Linder has appealed, but no date has been set for the hearing - or her execution. As she waits to hear whether she will live or die, Linder says her children take up most of her thoughts.

  "No man in prison could feel as I feel. It was like losing part of myself when my children were taken from me," she said.

  Daughter Tina, 18 months, and son Eric, 10, now live with their grandparents. Only the boy has visited his mother in prison.

  "Time just stood still when I saw him standing there. We hugged and kissed," she said. "I was crying and fought to stop as I knew it was painful to him.

  "It was terrible. You can't get away from the fact he knew I was in prison."

  Eric Linder regularly writes to his mother and his letters have a "terribly emotional effect," she says.

Patrolman Philip Black (left) and Canadian Police Constable David Irwin - the men gunned down by Sonia Linder



Sonia Linder waits for death in the electric chair. Is her execution more certain since the execution of murderer Gary Gilmore earlier this year?

  Has death inched nearer for Sonia Linder - the only woman on death row in the USA - following the execution of double murderer, Gary Gilmore?

  That's the question the 28-year-old mother of two - who could be the first woman in the USA to go to the electric chair in 15 years - is asking herself as she passes away the hours in her cell in a Florida County prison.

  Yet Sonia claims she faces the death penalty only because of her love for her children.

  And it is that love that is now bringing her untold anguish. By day she uses a children's painting set to paint the flowers she cannot see in her bleak cell...and her imagination to paint a picture of the children she knows she may never see again.

  Sonia was convicted and sentenced to die over the slaying of two policemen. Until now she has never told her story and a court will hear it for the first time when her appeal comes up later this year.

  Sonia "Sunny" Linder was near to tears as she told me: "Only a mother could understand what I feel and how I acted. No man could feel as I feel. It was like losing a part of myself when my children were taken from me."

  Baby daughter Tina, nine months old at the time of the shooting last year, was literally taken from Sonia's breast when Sonia was arrested. Since then she and older brother Eric, 10, have been living with grandparents while their mother awaits the appeal that will decide whether they will see each other again.

  Surrounded by photographs of her children, Sonia recalls that when arrested she pleaded not to be separated from her children.

  Only once has she seen her son during a brief prison visit, but the agonies of their brief reunion are vivid in her mind.

  "Time just stood still when I saw him standing there. We hugged and kissed each other," Sonia says. "I tried not to let my emotions go, but I am his mother. I found myself crying and I had to stop because I knew if must be so painful for him. We tried to act normally and talk about what he had been doing at school and what his little sister was doing. But it was a terrible situation, you can't escape the fact he knew I was in prison."

  Eric writes to his mother regularly and Sonia lavishes her motherly love on his letters - which include drawings of where he had been and what he is doing.

  "I get terribly emotional about my mail," admits Sonia. "I can't help it. I feel exactly the same as he does about whatever he has been doing and tears come to my eyes. I'll be laughing and crying and talking to a piece of paper - even kissing it. That helps me so much."

  A Florida Court - presided over by a judge who himself was a former State Trooper and still wears his official police hat - convicted Sonia following the death of two policemen. Highway Patrolman Philip Black, 39, was accompanied by Mountie David Irwin - a Canadian friend on holiday with him - when they approached a car parked in a rest area on Interstate 95 near Deerfield Beach in the early morning.

  The Patrolman called in for a radio check on a gun he found in the car, was told he was in extreme danger and walked back towards the suspect vehicle.

  Witnesses say both men fell dead in a fusillade of shots. The shooting was followed by a wild chase over 65 kilometers in which the fugitives hijacked a Cadillac and its driver at gunpoint, robbed a local resident and were finally captured when they crashed into a police barricade.

  With Sonia in that car were Jess Tefaro and Walter Norman Rhodes, who turned state's evidence at the trial and avoided the death penalty.

  Sonia - who feels that as a woman in a shooting she was tarred with the "Bonnie and Clyde" brush - paints a different story of why she lingered after the shooting.

  "My two children were also in the car and I was only a mother trying to protect my children," she says. "I don't see what I or anyone else could have done in the situation I was in.

  "When you have just seen two people killed and the person who did it still has the gun in his hand and is serious about it you can't just say 'Well, if you don't mind I'll stay behind.'

  "When he tells you to get in the car you do so. I wasn't sure whether he intended leaving any witnesses behind. Concern for my children made me stay. I feel lucky to be alive, even here in prison.

  "I could have frozen and not done anything but I had to consider my children. It was a life and death situation in which they could have been killed.

  "At least now, whatever else, I can think that my action saved the life of my children. I had to remain until I saw a way to get them to safety."

June 3, 1977

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