Death sentence thrown out because of jurors' use of Bible
The Bible saves lives. Just ask Robert Harlan.
In 1995 a Colorado jury convicted him of kidnapping, raping, and murdering 25-year-old Rhonda Maloney, and shooting a bystander who tried to help.
The crimes Harlan committed, Vigil said, were "among the most grievous, heinous and reprehensible" he had seen in his 18 years as judge. "If any case merits the death penalty, there cannot be serious debate about this case being that case."
But while jurors can use their personal convictions in deliberations, they can't use texts that weren't introduced at trial.
"Jury resort to biblical code has no place in a constitutional death penalty proceeding," Vigil ruled. The quoted Levitical passages, he said, "more than simply encourage jurors to follow the instructions of the court. … The biblical passages involved not only encouraged the death penalty but required that it be imposed when another life is taken. The passages also directed jurors to take guidance from, and obey, the government. They left the jurors no discretion."
CBS News legal commentator Andrew Cohen sums up the reasoning:
Jurors in capital cases are supposed to act as the moral conscience of their community. And they are permitted to bring with them into the deliberation room whatever religious or spiritual beliefs they may have. That's what voir dire is for—to permit the judge, and sometimes the attorneys themselves, to ask potential jurors whether their religious beliefs may interfere with their ability to follow the judge's instructions as to the law ...1
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