Justices to say whether murderer's conversion should have been emphasized in jury sentencing instructions
In 1981, William Payton went to a California home where he'd previously rented a room, begging for a place to stay. The woman there let him sleep on the couch. A few hours later, while she was still sleeping, Payton stabbed her 12 times, then raped her as she lay dying. Then he attacked the woman's housemate, stabbing her 40 times, and her 10-year-old son, stabbing him 23 times. Both of these victims, however, survived.

In other words, Payton's crimes are pretty heinous. And a jury found him guilty on all counts.

But God is gracious to the greatest of sinners. In prison, Payton converted to Christianity, and became zealous in his faith. He even led several prison Bible studies.

At Payton's sentencing hearing, eight witnesses told of Payton's conversion, faith, and his changed character. But the prosecutor in the case told the jury to disregard the conversion as a "mitigating" factor—it didn't count. The jury agreed, and sentenced Payton to death. Last October, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the prosecutor's comment was a mistake—and one big enough to overturn the sentence (as well as the California Supreme Court's 1992 affirmation of Payton's death penalty).

"We have determined that there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury accepted the prosecutor's erroneous statement of the law rather than the defense counsel's and that it therefore failed to consider the only evidence offered in mitigation of the death penalty," Judge Richard Paez wrote for the 6-5 majority.

The dissenters in the case not only questioned the wisdom of overturning the sentence, but also wondered about the "mitigating factors" in Payton's conversion itself

"Abstract legal discussions are important to the development of the law, but so is the ability to look at the impact of those abstract decisions in the context of the real world," wrote Judge Richard Tallman. "Any legal errors were harmless in relation to the acts committed by the man who stood before the jury and asked it to mitigate his sentence based solely on his change of heart after he was caught."

Now the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case, which prosecutors say could have a significant effect on a number of other death penalty cases.

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Nigeria riots:

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  • Nigeria villagers running scared despite state of emergency | Women and children carrying head-loads of personal belongings streamed out of Bakin Ciyawa - a little village of mud huts and a few cement buildings with corrugated iron roofing in central Nigeria's Plateau State - just ahead of dusk, fearful of another militia attack (IRIN, UN)

  • Plateau killings spread - Alli wants foreign help | Fighting has spread in the killing fields of Plateau State, where President Olusegun Obasanjo Tuesday last week declared a State of Emergency, with reports of killings in Pandam, Namu, Saminaka and Barkin Ciyawa in Quanpan Local Government Area of the state last weekend (P.M. News, Nigeria)

  • CAN arranges parley with Obasanjo, Pam | Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday said it had arranged a meeting between President Olusegun Obasanjo and its Plateau leader, Reverend Yakubu Pam to help resolve their differences, even as it called on its members to  continue to exhibit patience and understanding in the face of attacks (Vanguard, Nigeria)

  • One week of emergency rule in Plateau | With the crisis in Plateau not showing signs of easing off, the following weeks could determine whether this policy was sound,  because increasingly respected public personalities have come out against it; furthermore, it  seems  what happens in Plateau  might well end up defining the Obasanjo Presidency and the survival of democracy (Paul Odili, Vanguard, Nigeria)

  • Subverting God in the service of God | What happened in Kano was predictable and only another in an endless series of religious rioting. It will surely happen again (Harry Nwana, Vanguard, Nigeria)

  • Cash payments offered for militia guns in troubled Plateau state | The newly appointed administrator of Plateau State, Retired General Chris Alli, has offered cash payments for the return of weapons in the hands of rival Muslim and Christian militia groups that have killed hundreds of people in an upsurge of sectarian violence in recent weeks (IRIN, UN)

  • Work towards peace, unity, Anglican Church tells Nigerians | Concerned about the violence across the country, the Diocese of Lagos, (Church of Nigeria), Anglican Communion has called on politicians to work vigorously towards the enthronement of peace and unity in the country (Daily Times, Nigeria)

  • CAN, traditionalist rift in Ido/Osi council settled | An age long feud between the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the traditionalists in the Ilogbo Community in the Ido/Osi Local Government Area of Ekiti State has come to an end as the warring factions have settled their rift (Daily Times, Nigeria)

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  • Refugees flee violence in central Nigeria | Violence in central Nigeria between Christians and Muslims has caused tens of thousands of people to flee the area. President Olusegon Obasanjo declared a state of emergency last week in the state of Plateau. Death toll estimates from attacks in May have ranged from 67 to as many as 600 killed (All Things Considered, NPR)

Public morality:

  • Seismic moral shift | There are now no boundaries in America. Any rule is potentially viewed as oppressive and any law — whether legal or moral — is up for debate, negotiation and overturning if it impedes a single individual from fulfilling his or her desire (Cal Thomas, The Washington Times)

  • Tim Russert Boston College speech stresses values | 'Meet the Press' anchor addresses graduates (The Boston Globe)

  • Archbishop attacks pursuit of short-term goals | The Archbishop of Canterbury has criticised Britain's "portfolio culture", in which personal integrity is being sacrificed to short-term goals (The Times, London)

  • Challenging the West's moral virtue | Western values have been found wanting. Stand by for the rise of China and India (Martin Jacques, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

Church life:

  • Is the sign for commuters a message from above? | On the shaky ride in from the suburbs, one of the last things riders on most Long Island Rail Road lines see before plunging into a tunnel under the East River is a message from New York Presbyterian Church (The New York Times)

  • Log on for salvation | If people won't come to church, the church will have to come to them—or, at least, to their computers (Newsweek)

  • Discord as vicar sacks 'clique' of bellringers | A battle broke out in a village after bellringers were sacked by the vicar of its 13th-century church (The Telegraph, London)

  • Why Kirk's tradition gags talented Moderators | The temporary nature of the Church of Scotland's Moderators' tenure has been a weakness, and never more so than in the modern era (Magnus Linklater, Scotland on Sunday)

  • Hunt enthusiasts call faithful to Free Church of Country Sports | A group of hunting enthusiasts is setting up its own "church" in an attempt to stop the Government from banning their favorite field sport (The Telegraph, London)

  • Kirk shames middle class 'skinflints' | Senior Church of Scotland leaders have criticized wealthy, middle-class parishioners who they accuse of keeping their hands in their pockets when the collection plate comes round on a Sunday (The Times, London, sub. req'd.)

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  • Kirk on course for 100 new ministers | There has been a sharp increase in the number of people approaching the Church of Scotland wanting to become ministers, the General Assembly heard (The Scotsman)

Unitarian church shrinking:

  • The end is nigh for Unitarians, minister warns | The Unitarian movement, a dissenting church that grew out of the Reformation and denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, has fewer than 6,000 members in Britain; half of whom are aged over 65 (The Times, London, sub. req'd.)

  • Denial of the Holy Trinity led to ban | The earliest Unitarian movements were founded in the 16th century in Transylvania and Poland. In parts of Eastern Europe, where it flourished, it was known as Socinianism, after the anti-Trinitarian theologian Fausto Sozzini (The Times, London, sub. req'd.)

Missions & ministry:

  • The high tech nun | Sister Patsy Harney fights the digital divide to bring the poor up to speed A lot of basic elements of growing up are now entwined in digital media, says a national researcher on kids and computers (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Hoping faith will stop crime | Lawtey is the latest experiment in a growing religion-in-prison movement pushed by Christian luminaries such as former Watergate cover-up figure Charles Colson that has gained a foothold in at least five states (Newsday)

  • Home, but not alone anymore | Co-op classes, social activities are replacing isolation (Houston Chronicle)

  • Man on a mission rips phone books | When Ed Charon rolls into town, telephone books ought to make themselves scarce. By the time he leaves, inevitably there's a pulpy trail of torn yellow pages and, he hopes, a few hearts steered toward Christianity (Billings Gazette, Mont.)

  • With this ring … | … more teens are pledging chastity until marriage (The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., alt site)

Popular faith:

  • Prophets and politics | I'd sooner not call myself religious, because we on the left have allowed the right to hijack the notion of faith (Kwame Kwei-Armah, The Guardian, London)

  • A proper regard for faith on the field | A soccer player has demanded her religion be respected by the Women's Premier League (Editorial, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • The do-it-yourself doctrine | It's a heresy nowadays to accuse someone of heresy. (Charlotte Allen, Los Angeles Times)

  • A better bowl of cherries | Just as you are allowed to sit down without being able to define a chair, so, I'd have thought, you should be able to worship without being able to define religion (Christopher Howse, The Telegraph, London)

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  • Iliff president retiring after four years | The president of Denver's Iliff School of Theology announced his retirement Monday after a four-year tenure marked by enrollment and fundraising gains as well as bitter struggles over the Methodist seminary's direction (The Denver Post)

  • Indianapolis Public School Board votes to end paddling | Decision seen as step toward statewide ban; practice is losing favor in districts nationwide (The Indianapolis Star)

  • Higher education should reach for God | There's nothing more important in life than the pursuit of truth about and service to God. Yet, even though many universities and colleges were founded by Christian denominations, fewer and fewer today systematically provide for the soul (Raymond J. Keating, Newsday)

  • Proposal urges exodus from public schools | Choosing between public education or private Christian-based instruction could get more complicated for Southern Baptist parents if their denomination's annual meeting in June endorses a proposed wholesale exodus from "godless" public schools (The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, Va.)

  • Vote sought on public school 'exodus' | T.C. Pinckney explains why he is petitioning the Southern Baptist Convention to urge Christian parents to remove their children from public schools (Education Week)

  • Religion hasn't been 'kicked out' of schools | In fact, over past decade it has kicked back in — so let's stop unfairly demonizing public school (Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center)

Life ethics:

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  • Pro-abortion group in fresh legal bid | Pro-abortion campaigners have launched a renewed bid to make pregnancy terminations more widely available in Northern Ireland where abortion laws are among the most restrictive in Europe (Reuters)

  • Appeal over abortion guidelines | An appeal has begun in the High Court in Belfast against a decision not to issue guidelines on the practice of abortion (BBC, video1, video2)

  • Midwife admits illegal abortions | A senior Northern Ireland midwife has admitted taking part in illegal abortions and believes most terminations now carried out in the province are "criminal acts" (The Sunday Times, London, sub. req'd.)

Animal rights:

  • Bush speechwriter emerges as animal welfare advocate | Although animal welfare is usually thought of as a liberal cause, Matthew Scully argues that it ought to be a central issue for religious conservatives (The Washington Post)

  • Earlier: Creature Discomforts | A conservative Christian makes the case for animal mercy in Dominion (Christianity Today, July 31, 2003)

Politics and Communion:

  • Chaput joins political debate | Denver Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput on Tuesday joined a national debate about Communion and the ballot box, writing that denying anyone the Eucharist is a "very grave matter" that should be used only in "extraordinary cases of public scandal" (The Denver Post)

  • Chaput makes call for conscience | Archbishop: 'Serious' sinners should not take Communion (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Eucharist debate extends to Denver | Archbishop Charles Chaput on Tuesday said the media turmoil over "denying Catholic politicians Communion" is filled with ignorance about the church and the real meaning of the Eucharist (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)

  • Archbishop Chaput speaks to his flock | Denver prelate's message on Communion focuses on spiritual issues and the conscience of Catholics, doesn't give political orders to the faithful (Editorial, The Denver Post)

  • When church plays politics, it risks losing many voters | I'm quite sure if the pope knew how I felt about certain teachings, he would have no qualms about denying me communion (Marney Rich Keenan, The Detroit News)

  • Religious leaders rightly defend basic tenets | The need of bishops, rabbis, and imams to state their religions' boundaries trumps their instinct for compassion. They shouldn't bend to public pressure (Gerald L. Zelizer, USA Today)

  • Churches can decide their own standards | This is not about the separation of church and state. It is a question of the standards of each (Joseph P. Owens, The Express-Times, Bethlehem, Pa.)

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Religion & politics:

  • Separation anxiety | John Kerry's religion problem—and the Catholic Democrat who can help him solve it (Scott Stossel, The Boston Globe)

  • Lawyer seeks justice's ouster, disqualification | Mobile lawyer Jim Zeigler said Tuesday he will file an ethics complaint today against Justice Jean Brown for running what he says are false and misleading campaign commercials about her vote to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building (The Birmingham News, Ala.)

  • All Methodists don't think alike | U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Bush are both United Methodists whose lives have been touched significantly by their church (Leo Sandon, The Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)

  • Bishops and the ethnic vote | So Canada's Roman Catholic bishops are getting involved in the election and have outlined 13 key issues they are asking Catholics to consider when deciding how to vote (Andrew Cardozo, The Globe and Mail, Toronto)

  • Hate-spewing Christians are Satan's helpers | As the former mayor, police commissioners and fire chief of New York City testified last week before the Sept. 11 commission, a band of protesters held up signs that bore such slogans as "God Hates America" and "Thank God for 9/11" (Charita Goshay, The Canton Repository, Oh.)

  • Cross-bearing | County seal flap illustrates political correctness gone wild (Editorial, Los Angeles Daily News)

  • Evangelicals not all for Bush | New polling shows that Evangelical Christians are not uniformly conservative on every issue. About one third of them are described as moderate, theologically conservative on sexual morality but socially progressive on political issues such as poverty and the environment (William McKenzie, Morning Edition, NPR)

  • Alabama Christian Coalition chief is now Catholic | John Giles found himself in awe of church's history and ritual, particularly its use of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch in each service (Associated Press)

  • Evangelicals give U.S. foreign policy an activist tinge | Led in part by the irrepressible Michael Horowitz, a Jewish neoconservative at the Hudson Institute think tank, evangelicals are embracing international causes with the same moral fervor they have long brought to domestic matters (Associated Press)

Pastor elected mayor on anti-porn platform:

  • Anti-porn pastor elected mayor of small town | Six months ago Jim Norwood and other church members came up with a plan: take pictures of customers' cars parked outside strip joints and adult bookstores and mail them the photos, along with an invitation to visit the church (Associated Press)

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  • Also: No surprise here: New mayor has big plans for Kennedale | The fast-growing, 6,100-population community as of Monday will be operating with the quirky but also charismatic and highly intelligent 56-year-old Jim Norwood at the helm (O.K. Carter, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

War & terrorism:

  • Finding friends, and God, among bullets in Rafah | I am the choir leader at the only evangelical church in Gaza, the Gaza Baptist Church (Husein Mashni, Daily Pilot, Newport Beach, Ca.)

  • Down the sewer to Abu Ghraib | Our military is addressing the abuses that occurred in a prison far away and holding accountable those who are responsible — but what are the rest of us doing to restore civility and decency here at home? (Rebecca Hagelin, Los Angeles Times)

  • Liberia's Catholic Church calls for war crimes tribunal | In a statement Wednesday on the prevailing situation in Liberia, the Catholic Archdiocese said while it does not oppose any setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or any other transitional justice systems, it believes that the war crimes tribunal is an additional mechanism to correct the wrongs (The News, Monrovia, Liberia)

God & the EU:

Religious freedom:

  • JUI to resist changes in blasphemy laws | The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, whose amir Maulana Fazlur Rehman has been appointed opposition leader in the National Assembly, declared on Tuesday that the party would not allow the government to make any change to the blasphemy laws or the Hudood Ordinance (Dawn, Pakistan)

  • Beijing expected to have two more churches | This Chinese capital of Beijing is expected to have two new churches by the end of the year, said Zhang Shuxian, director of the Beijing Municipal Administration for Religious Affairs on Wednesday (Xinhuanet, official China news source)

  • Organization fights University's policy | The women's Christian cooperative house at Purdue has been exempted from following the University's non-discrimination policy (The Purdue Exponent, Ind.)

Gay marriage:

  • 'Army' fights gay nuptials | Some of the country's most powerful evangelical leaders exhorted conservative Christians to fight for traditional marriage during a nationally broadcast rally Sunday night at New Life Church in Colorado Springs (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)

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California court judges S.F. gay marriages:

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  • John A. Huffman dies at 92 | Massachusetts pastor was founding member of the National Association of Evangelicals and was the founding editor of the organization's publication, United Evangelical Action Magazine (Chicago Tribune)

  • 'Gatemouth' Moore dies at 90 | Blues and Gospel singer was ordained minister (Los Angeles Times)

  • Q&A with T.D. Jakes | Next month, about 200,000 Christians are expected for his Mega Fest 2004 in Atlanta (The Dallas Morning News)




  • God inspires healthy lifestyle | The "Body For God" program, started by church pastor Ed Young, is a Biblically-based way church members, and others, can live a more healthy and spiritual lifestyle (WNEM, Dallas)

  • Dead Theologians Society brings Catholic faith to life | With Gregorian chants playing in the background and a fragrant pipe tobacco smoldering like incense in a bowl, the Dead Theologians Society of La Crosse gathers each week in a limestone basement chapel to read by candlelight the writings of the early church fathers or ponder the lives of saints (La Crosse Tribune, Wis.)


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  • New bishop to make values his top priority | The Rev. Francis Xavier DiLorenzo was installed yesterday as the 12th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, vowing to make traditional values of the church his top priority (The Washington Times)

  • English bishops soften Vatican's moral line | The Catholic Church in England and Wales will today soften the harsh moralistic language of the Vatican in setting out its most comprehensive moral guidelines for many years to the faithful on how they should live their lives (The Guardian, London)

  • Religious orders meet the public | Traditionally private religious communities of monks and nuns are opening their doors for a series of monthly 'encounter-days' (BBC)

  • The ethics of happiness | The fundamentals of Catholic teaching are still rooted in the most basic human desires (Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, The Guardian, London)

  • Catholic bishops are on a slippery slope | Single-issue politics does not work well in this system (Leo Sandon, The Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)

  • Cardinal George meets with the Pope | Cardinal George is giving his report on the Chicago archdiocese (WLS, Chicago)

Closing Catholic churches:

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  • 'Light of faith will burn … brighter in renewal' | Excerpts from yesterday's statement by Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley on the closing of parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston (The Boston Globe)

  • Disappearing parishes | Parish life is a lattice of faith, study, family, and friendship supporting individuals and neighborhoods. Parish closures rip apart that support and should be held to a minimum (Editorial, The Boston Globe)

  • Eulogy for 60 churches: Priest shortage compels closures | Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley unveiled a sweeping reorganization of the Archdiocese of Boston yesterday and attributed the dramatic move to a persistent priest shortage - a problem likely to lead to future closings unless a solution is found (Boston Herald)

  • Church closings painful, necessary | O'Malley has set the archdiocese on a course of healing, financially and spiritually. Accepting these church closings is one of the higher mountains he will ask Boston-area Catholics to climb (Editorial, Boston Herald)

  • Parishioners fight to save their church | The Pottstown parish is to be closed (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

More articles:

  • Conservative group amplifies voice of Protestant orthodoxy | The Institute on Religion and Democracy, a small organization based in Washington, has helped incubate traditionalist insurrections against the liberal politics of the denomination's leaders (The New York Times)

  • A muted response to AIDS | The growing epidemic is the nation's No. 1 killer, but many of the sick are shunned and left to rely on prayer and untested remedies (Los Angeles Times)

  • The big lab experiment | Was our universe created by design? (Jim Holt, Slate)

  • Concern over 'lack of Christians' at Kirk's Israeli hotel and retreat | The Church of Scotland's troubled hotel and retreat in Israel was plunged into fresh controversy last night, after one of the Kirk's senior ministers in Jerusalem accused officials running the project of not employing Christians in senior positions (The Scotsman)

  • Heirs press creator's claim to Rio's Christ | Locals grouse as the French family of the iconic statue's sculptor seeks royalties (Los Angeles Times)

  • Judge orders auction to end Bible dispute | Ruling in the case of a brother and sister who have been locked in a four-year fight over who owns their mother's 125-year-old family Bible, a Lake County probate judge hit upon a way for each to come away with their share (Associated Press)

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  • Mich. priest arrested in online sex sting | A Roman Catholic priest was arrested in an Internet sex sting after allegedly arranging to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl (Associated Press)

  • Sudanese factions close to peace deal | Details of cease-fire still to be negotiated (The Washington Post)

  • Heavens above, the planets may affect us | Scientists have always dismissed astrology as a load of old bunk. Now, a British astronomer has said that there might be something in it after all. Could the planets really control our fates? (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • What are the Jewish and Christian views of Pentecost? | Faiths share holiday, but for different reasons (The Kansas City Star)

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