Texas jurors send killer to death because the Bible told them to

This morning on work I was reading a Danish newspaper, when I saw an article that made me think “what the BEEEEP!”. Is it acceptable to justify the choice of condemning a person to death, saying that it´s the Bible that told the jurors to do it? I don´t think that a religious book should be used to this purpose. So why are all together trying to fight against Muslims and the use they do of the Koran? The idea behind is the same.  And if someone would like to say, that USA is based on Christian values and so it´s acceptable to use the Bible as a “instrument of justice”, well… I say to these people, that kill a man is really not in line with the Christian doctrine. Maybe it´s in line with their interpretation of the Bible. In the end it´s a book, and it can be interpreted in many different ways.

This is not about being pro or against death penalty. It´s more about the fact that religion and personal values should being kept separated from the activity of the judicial branch. After all “The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion”.

This is not the article I´ve read, but it´s just to give an idea of what happened.


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From The Times
October 16, 2009

Texas jurors send killer to his death ‘because the Bible told them to’

A Texas man is due to be executed next month despite admissions by jurors that they consulted biblical passages advocating death as a punishment to help to decide his fate.

Before sending Khristian Oliver to his death after he was convicted of murdering his victim — who was bludgeoned with a gun barrel — jurors read passages of the Old Testament, including one that states that a killer who uses an iron object to kill “shall surely be put to death”. Oliver, 32, is due to be executed on November 5. He was convicted in 1999 of the murder of Joe Collins, 64, during a 1998 break-in at the victim’s rural East Texas home.

During the trial, the jurors were instructed by the judge not to refer to anything that was not presented as evidence in the courtroom.

Amnesty International called on the Texas authorities to commute Oliver’s death sentence because since his trial, jurors had admitted that they read the Bible while they decided whether he should live or die. In particular, they said that Bibles were passed around with specific passages highlighted, and that one juror read aloud to his fellow jurors the passage, from Numbers XXXV, 16: “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.”

Mr Collins was shot by Oliver and then repeatedly struck with a gun barrel.

In a post-trial hearing two months after Oliver was condemned to death, four jurors acknowledged to the judge that Bibles had been present in the jury room, and that highlighted passages were passed around.

In 2002 a Danish journalist interviewed a fifth juror, who said that “about 80 per cent” of the jurors had “brought scripture into the deliberation” and that they had consulted the Bible “long before we ever reached a verdict”.

The fifth juror also said that he believed “the Bible is truth from page one to the last page”, and that if civil law and biblical law were in conflict, the latter should prevail.

He added that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible, “I would have left the courtroom”. He described himself as a death penalty supporter, saying that life imprisonment was a burden on the taxpayer.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said last year that jurors had wrongly used the Bible and that it had amounted to an “external influence” prohibited under the US Constitution. Yet the court said there was not enough evidence to show they were prejudiced when they decided to send Oliver to death row.

In April the US Supreme Court — the final chance Oliver had to appeal against his death sentence — refused to hear the case, despite being urged to do so by 50 former and current federal and state prosecutors. Kate Allen, the British director of Amnesty, called the use of the Bible in the juror’s deliberations “deeply, deeply troubling”.


2 thoughts on “Texas jurors send killer to death because the Bible told them to

  1. Thanks for your interesting comment, and also thanks for the link to your blog!
    I grew up in a Christian family and community, and I cannot understand how a Christian can approve death penalty and use the Bible to condamed a person to death, because I always thought that this goes against the Christian values. Probably it depends on what part of the Bible a person chooses to use (Old or New Testament) and how it´s interpretated. But still, I find it shocking.
    Anyway I believe that any kind of religion is a private and personal thing, therefore it shouldn´t interfere with political and civil matters. If we are aiming at an egalitarian society, we cannot allow this to happen.
    I´ll post the link to you article on my blog, if I can.
    Have a nice day.

  2. I agree with you. However, in my understanding, from a legal perspective, the appeal was unsuccessful because even if the Jury had not conuslted the bible they would have been entitled to impose the death penalty under state law. To succeed in terms of the test for fair trial under the 6th Amendment to the US constitution the test is 2-fold: he had to establish BOTH that the jury shouldn’t have used the bible (which he did); AND that had they done what they should have done (refer only to state law) then they’d have come to a different conclusion. So the Bible-stuff in this decision to execute is a bit of a red herring, in my opinion. However, that said, from a Christian perspective I think the death penalty is deeply questionable. I blogged about it here: http://damascusmoments.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/the-death-penalty-just-deserts-or-justice-deserted/

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