Tuesday, March 29, 2005

What About Activist Jurors?

From the Rocky Mountain News:

A convicted murderer who raped a woman for two hours, paralyzed a good Samaritan and left his victim’s nude body under a remote bridge was spared execution Monday because jurors consulted the Bible when deciding his fate.

A divided Colorado Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that biblical passages considered by jurors who in 1995 condemned Robert Harlan to death may have unduly influenced their decision.


Adams County District Judge John Vigil overturned the death sentence in 2003 after learning that jurors consulted the Bible and discussed such passages as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” during deliberations.

The high court concluded Monday that the “unauthorized introduction into the jury room of the Bible and its text commanding the death sentence for murder could influence a typical juror to vote for death instead of life imprisonment.

“Consequently, we must uphold the trial court’s judgment vacating the death sentence and sentencing Harlan to life imprisonment without parole,” the court said in the opinion, written by Justice Gregory Hobbs.


Gov. Bill Owens called the court’s ruling a hair-splitting decision that was “demeaning to people of faith and prevents justice from being served.

“Even the justices who voted to overturn the penalty agreed that moral values and religious beliefs are important and can be part of the debate among jurors.”

[…]Among the passages discussed during jury deliberations was one from Leviticus, which addresses the concept of an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death.”

Two jurors took notes on the passages and reported their findings to other jurors during the next day’s deliberations, which concluded with a unanimous vote in favor of a death sentence.

Jurors were not specifically told not to consult the Bible but were repeatedly instructed to base their decision only on what was admitted into evidence during trial.

I’m sure the wingnuts will seize on this as yet another case of “activist” judges going soft on criminals and displaying anti-religious bigotry. But the Bible is a piss-poor legal text; Leviticus also condemns people for wearing two different kinds of cloth, planting two different kinds of crops in the same field, and touching the skin of a pig. (Wow, talk about your control freak…) So what about the polyester-clad TV preacher, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the good folks at Oscar Mayer; are they going to end up on death row, too?