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Condemned Killer Says Bible Helped Jury Decide His Death Sentence

Associated Press
Livingston, Texas – The death sentence of a Texas man is under scrutiny because jurors at his trial had Bibles with them when they decided he should be executed
Jurors sentenced Khristian Oliver to the death penalty in 1999 after he was convicted of brutally killing a 64-year-old man during a home break-in. His lawyers contend jurors improperly relied on religious beliefs that called for death as punishment for murder.
“This is headed toward a showdown on a very fundamental question on the use of the Bible,” Winston Cochran, Oliver’s lawyer, said.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld the conviction and denied his request for a hearing on the Bible-related claims, but agreed to consider written arguments and then hold oral arguments.
In their ruling Nov. 16, the judges asked lawyers to explain whether the jurors’ consultation of the Bible amounted to “an external influence that raises a presumption of prejudice.”
At issue is a verse in Chapter 35 of Numbers which, in the New American Standard Bible, reads: “But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.” Other versions of the Bible have similar passages, some of them referring to an “iron rod” as the weapon.
Special Prosecutor Sue Korioth said there never was an implication jurors voted based on Scripture or had any kind of religious discussion.
“Several of them carried Bibles in and out like my daughter carries her “Seventeen” magazine,” she said. “It was just their reading material.”
At a state district court hearing two months after the trial, four jurors testified about the presence of Bibles in the jury room and gave varying accounts, ranging from one Bible to several being present. One juror testified he and fellow jurors carried the books with them because they would go to Bible study in the evenings following the day’s court proceedings,
Another juror testified any reading from the books came after they had reached a decision. A third said the reading of Scripture was intended to make people feel better about their decision.
Oliver is at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison where inmates undergo treatment for psychiatric conditions and could not be interviewed.
Cochran had until the end of December to present written briefs to the court. Prosecutors will then have an opportunity to respond. Oral arguments before the New Orleans-based court are not likely until later in 2008.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Joey

    I’m actually surprised Bibles are allowed in a jury room at all; I’ve never had jury duty, do they keep records where they could check to see if anything like this was discussed? It seems like there may be grounds for a mistrial or something, though realistically I wonder if anybody who wasn’t already pro-death penalty would have been influenced by reading that verse during the trial (itself a fairly unlikely event).
    God bless.

  • Henrietta22

    I’ve sat on two Jurys in CA, we could only have our purse, and the pad and pen that we were given to take notes, into the Jury box. I was an alternate juror so didn’t get to take part in a decision for one, and the other was settled in middle of trial in the Judges Chambers. People are asked by the lawyers as they are being selected about many things, I suppose they could conceivably be asked about their faith, as well. To say that people decide how to decide because of their faith beliefs is part of any decision they make, so the only thing here that is different is that some carried Bibles with them. It doesn’t make it clear if they opened them as they were discussing the case in the jury chambers in this article. If they had a lawyers textbook open and was discussing that in reference to this case would this be looked at with suspicion, too, I wonder.

  • pagansister

    I’d be surprised if the Bible influenced the death penalty verdict for Oliver. Makes for an interesting grounds for an appeal however. I had jury duty 2 times, and both times I had a bag with a book to read, snacks etc. as we had to sit sometimes all day to see if our group would be chosen for a case. Was on a case one of those times and my bag went into the jury room with me, and no one even asked what was in it. Others had reading material etc. also. This was before 9/11, but we did go through a medal detector in the court house.
    When I was interviewed by the lawyers on the one case I was on, religion never came up.

  • nnmns

    I’d be concerned if there was directed reading of the Bible, or I guess anything else not a law book or record of testimony at the trial. And I’d be concerned for a different reason if people could carry in the Bible but not other books. But I’m not especially concerned about what’s described here. I understand there’s also something in there about not casting stones unless you’re without guilt.

  • pagansister

    Hope everyone is having a great New Year’s Day and that 2008 will be a peaceful, healthy, happy one for all!

  • Henrietta22

    Thanks ps, we had a fun-filled day with our friends and their four dogs! Hope you, nnmns, and everyone else had a happy first day of 2008!

  • jestrfyl

    Happy Gnu ‘Ear, gang!
    Well, I expect this jurisdiction will be returning to Levitical Law this term, so watch out animal advocates. There’s gon’na be some sacrificin’ goin’ on here. Forget PETA! They’re gon’na do Law the Old Testament Way! Of course, Mike Huckabee will be right there lending a hand at the altar, collecting blood and splashin’ it all over the crowd. This will be fun AND educational – religion, law, and anatomy all in messy session. Don’t ya just love it!
    Good Christmas, long trip northward (it was cOLD), home again – glad to be warm (though the northern chill followed us here for a couple of days. Bummer). Hope everyone had a great stretch of holidays. Lookin’ Great in 08 (stole that from our local gnus team)

  • nnmns

    Yes, happy New Year to all.

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