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The Murder of David & Dawn Lieneke


On July 4th, 1989, Chester and Frances Lieneke went to play bingo, leaving their two grandchildren at home in the Dutch Hollow Village mobile home park near Belleville, Illinois. David and Dawn Lieneke were living with their grandparents as their mother was in a local nursing home while battling cancer. Their father was living in Missouri but saw the children often. Chester and Frances returned home around 10:45 pm, but when they entered the home they found a terrifying and grizzly scene. David, age 18, and Dawn, age 13, were both dead.

David Lieneke was born in 1970 to Dale Lieneke and Sandra Young. His little sister, Dawn, arrived five years later in 1975. David was a graduate of Belleville West High School. He was described as quiet, reserved, and a loner. He served as a worship assistant at Signal Hill Luthern Church in Belleville. He was known to enjoy sandlot sports. David’s father said he was a good kid, well-liked, and stayed away from drugs and alcohol.

Dawn was described as a nice person who loved to babysit. A neighbor said she was a great babysitter and enjoyed playing music for the kids. Dawn also enjoyed writing poetry. Dawn even tutored neighborhood kids. According to a friend, Dawn had recently been diagnosed with lupus and was feeling down. She had lost a significant amount of weight, weighing just 87 pounds at the time of her death, but was starting to get her appetite back.



Dale Lieneke and Sandra Young didn’t have a long-lasting relationship. Dale married and moved to Missouri. Twelve days before the murders, David and Dawn welcomed a baby sister with their father and stepmother. Sandra Young was suffering from cancer and eventually was living in the nursing home. David and Dawn then went to live with their grandparents, not wanting to leave Belleville, their schools, and their friends. Their father complied, allowing the kids to stay with his parents.

On July 4th, 1989, Dale Lieneke had made plans to spend time with his kids. Unfortunately, he was not able to make it and called to cancel. He did talk to David and Dawn on the phone that day, making plans to see them this weekend. “I got to tell both kids I loved them. I wanted to make sure they weren’t jealous of their new 12-day-old baby sister Carmen” (Brumley, K., 1989).

That evening, a friend of Dawn’s came over to visit her. She was with Dawn and David until about 9:30 pm. By 10:45 pm, when Chester and Frances returned home, David and Dawn Lieneke had been brutally murdered. David was found in the hallway outside the bathroom of the mobile home. He had been stabbed six times. Dawn was found in her bed. She was stabbed seven times as she pulled the covers over herself. She presumably was trying to shield herself from the attacker.

Who would kill two teenagers? Why would someone kill David and Dawn Lieneke? No one was sure, but residents of the mobile home park did see a strange car in the area the night of the murders. The description of the vehicle included a license plate number. This vehicle was tracked to a woman in Washington Park, Illinois. The woman explained that her brother had been using the vehicle that night. Her brother, Anthony Mitchell, was a twenty-year-old man from Washington Park who was an acquaintance of David Lieneke.

Antony Mitchell was brought in for questioning, at which time he provided a full confession of his crimes. Mitchell provided details in his confession that only the killer would know. These included where the bodies were found, how many times each were stabbed, and the fact that Dawn was stabbed through her blankets. Following his confession, a search warrant was executed at Mitchell’s home. In the crawl space, detectives found a bloody survival knife. Shoe prints found in the ditch near the Lieneke’s home matched a pair of shoes found in Mitchell’s home. Media accounts state that Mitchell went to the home to confront David over a previous argument, but other reports say he was looking for a friend of David’s who he believed stole from him. He said he killed Dawn because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mitchell took a lie detector test and failed it. It seemed to be an open and shut case.

Anthony Mitchell went to trial in the spring of 1990. At trial, four friends testified for the prosecution. The defense suggested that the witnesses could not be considered credible as their testimony exonerated themselves of the crime. This included a friend who said he drove Mitchell to the trailer park that night. The defense pointed out that there was no blood found on any of Mitchell’s clothing or in the vehicle. The defense also suggested that Mitchell would not have been able to conceal the bloody knife in his white shorts after the crime. The prosecution countered that argument by presenting a forensic expert who identified the blood on the knife found in Mitchell’s home as being consistent with that of David and Dawn Lieneke.

It took only four hours for the jury to find Anthony Mitchell guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The jury agreed with the prosecution that Anthony Mitchell should face the death penalty. At the sentencing hearing, experts testified that Mitchell was borderline mentally disabled with a low IQ. Mitchell’s IQ is 73, with mental disability being diagnosed with an IQ of 70 or less. The defense said that Anthony Mitchell fell on his head as a child, possibly causing brain damage. The jury was not convinced that the mitigating factors overruled the aggravating factors in this case, and Anthony Mitchell was sentenced to die.

On appeal, the defense claimed that the prosecution used racial discrimination by excluding three black jurors during jury selection. Additionally, the defense claimed that the police did not make it clear that Mitchell was not under arrest during his interrogation, coerced his confession, and that he didn’t have a fair trial. The appeal stated that evidence about Mitchell’s belief that he was a ninja and that he possessed weapons unrelated to the crime were discriminatory and should have been excluded at trial. Furthermore, the appeal stated that the sentencing hearing was unfair because the prosecution stressed to the jury that the victims left behind family and friends, showed the jury photos of the victims before and after their deaths, used people’s fear of God to encourage a death sentence, and provided a highlighted list of aggravating factors to the jury. The appeal also challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty. The appeal was denied.

As Mitchell’s appeal process continued, Governor George Ryan took office in Illinois. After several death penalty cases were overturned in Illinois, Governor Ryan imposed a moratorium on all death sentences in Illinois. This included Anthony Mitchell’s sentence. In 2002, The United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute an offender who is mentally handicapped. Given the IQ of Anthony Mitchell, his attorneys began motions to have his sentence vacated under the new law. Anthony Mitchell also asked for clemency from Governor George Ryan. As the governor exited his office in 2003, he commuted all death sentences to life in prison. This included Anthony Mitchell. Anthony Mitchell is currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole at Menard Correctional Center.



David and Dawn Lieneke’s lives were cut short in a senseless act of violence. The teenagers were killed in their own home, where they should have been safe. Their family was left devastated without David and Dawn. Their baby sister grew up without her older siblings. There doesn’t seem to be a punishment fit for this crime, but at least their killer will spend the rest of his life behind bars.



References

Brumley, K. (1989). Man held in killing of teens. The Belleville News-Democrat. 06 Jul 1989

Wright, D. (1989). Teens’ family protests cemetery policy. The Belleville News-Democrat. 12 Aug 1989

Brumley, K. (1989). Killings suspect charged. The Belleville News-Democrat. 07 Jul 1989

Goodrich, R. (1990). Death penalty considered in slaying of teenagers. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 20 Mar 1990

Obituaries of David and Dawn Lieneke (1989) The Belleville News-Democrat. 06 Jul 1989

McDermott, K. (2002). Death penalty review board is urged to bar execution at killer’s resentencing. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 22 Oct 2002

Gansmann, B. (2002). Supreme court ruling means two St. Clair killers on death row can now appeal. The Belleville News-Democrat. 24 Jun 2002

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2 Comments


Dawn was a very kind and sweet girl. She loved Cabbage Patch dolls and we spent our summers playing and having adventures. Her home life was not the best and she spent a lot of time with my family. She was generous and funny. I often think of what her life would have been like if she had been allowed to grow up.

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Diane Wittenberg
Diane Wittenberg
May 04, 2023

This case? I'm not convinced the right man is behind bars. I think it's very possible that one or more of the four witnesses was/were the real perpetrator/s.

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