In the first of five executions scheduled in Texas in November, Khristian Oliver is scheduled for execution on Thursday, November 5 (Execution Schedule). He was sentenced to death by a jury whose members consulted the Bible during their deliberations on whether Oliver should receive the death penalty. During deliberations on sentencing, one of the jurors apparently read the following passage aloud to his fellow jurors: “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.” Another juror, a death penalty supporter, later told the media that “about 80 per cent” of the jurors had “brought scripture into the deliberation”, and that if civil law and biblical law were in conflict, the latter should prevail. And he said that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible, “I would have left the courtroom.”
If someone is to be sentenced to death, the decision of the jury should be based on the laws of the State of Texas and not the Bible. Khristian Oliver had a right to be sentenced in accordance with the laws of Texas, not those of the Bible. People can of course pray and consult their faith values individually whenever they want, but jurors should not read scripture to each other in the jury room to justify a death sentence, they should only consult the laws of Texas as explained to them by the judge.
During deliberations on sentencing, one of the jurors apparently read the following passage aloud to his fellow jurors: “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.” Another juror, a death penalty supporter, later told the media that “about 80 per cent” of the jurors had “brought scripture into the deliberation”, and that if civil law and biblical law were in conflict, the latter should prevail. And he said that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible, “I would have left the courtroom.”In recent weeks, a new juror has also come forward to acknowledge the role that the Bible played in their deliberations. Juror Teresa L. Short (formerly Schnelzer) has confirmed that jurors consulted the Bible at the very outset of their deliberations on the question of whether Oliver should be sentenced to death. Like the others, she recalls which Bible passages were read, and she specifically notes that jurors looked to and took comfort from the Bible in reaching their decision. (A copy of her affidavit has been provided to the Governor’s office by Mr. Oliver’s counsel.)
Call Governor Perry at 512 463 1782 or by sending him an email through his websiteto stop the execution of Khristian Oliver by issuing a 30-day stay of execution. You can explain that you are not seeking to excuse violent crime or to downplay the suffering caused to its victims, but that you think jurors unfairly sentenced him to death based on scripture and not solely on the Laws of the State of Texas, as they were required under Texas law and the U.S. Constitution.
Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428 Austin, TX 78711-2428
Fax: 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor Perry
According to the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray:
Every death penalty case raises big, Biblical themes: vengeance versus mercy, punishment versus redemption, the Old Testament versus the New.
But never have those themes been plainer than they are in the case of 32-year-old Khristian Oliver, who — pending a last-minute stay of execution — will be executed this evening.
During his murder trial in Nacogdoches, jurors brought four Bibles into the jury room. To decide his fate, they turned to the Old Testament, to eye-for-an-eye verses including Numbers 35:19: The revenger of blood shall himself slay the murderer; when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
Of course, jurors are supposed to interpret state law, not the Bible. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those jurors “had crossed an important line” by using specific Bible verses to decide whether Oliver would live or die, that the U.S. Constitution prohibits that sort of “external influence.” And last month, Amnesty International called to have Khristian’s sentence commuted.
But so far, the Old Testament penalty stands.
Biblical themes have long been the domain of Khristian’s father, Kermit Oliver, a well-known painter and the first African-American artist represented by a major Houston gallery.
Kermit often used his family as models in his allegorical paintings: His fans recognize his wife, Katie, who is also a painter, and their three children. Khristian, the youngest, is the blond one, the boy who looks white, lighter-skinned even than his light-skinned parents. Not long after his birth, he was the central figure in Young Mitras in Gown Designed for His Presentation to the Temple.
In 1984, when Khristian was about 7, the Olivers left Houston for Waco, where Katie had inherited a house. Khristian didn’t fit easily with either the black kids or the white kids in that black-and-white town, and he found little in-between. But he made OK grades, ran cross-country and belonged to a Catholic church.
Somewhere around his high-school graduation, though, he lost his bearings. He fought with his parents and fell in with a bad crowd. A roommate taught him burglary. He fathered a child. He smoked pot. No longer baby Mitras in grand robes, he became a different figure entirely: a prodigal son.
Every tragedy has a point of no return, and Khristian’s came on March 17, 1998, when he was 21. He smoked a joint with Sonya Reed, the 23-year-old mother of his baby girl, and with two teenage brothers, Lonny and Bennie Rubalcaba. Then the four of them drove around Nacogdoches, looking for an empty house to break into. Khristian carried his gun but didn’t plan to use it.
At a promising-looking house, they broke a window, making a lot of noise to see whether anyone would come investigate. No one did, so Khristian and Lonny ventured inside. Sonya and Bennie stayed in the car.
Soon, all hell broke loose. When the house’s owner, 64-year-old Joe Collins, returned home, Khristian and Lonny ran for the back door. But it was locked from the outside.
Collins, carrying a rifle, had the boys cornered. He shot Lonny in the leg.
Khristian shot back.
Charged with killing Collins, Khristian stood trial in Nacogdoches. Collins was white, and so was the jury.
The state designated Khristian’s as “white,” too, but the jury was free to draw its own conclusions. His darker-skinned parents sat behind him every day.
Khristian never denied shooting the homeowner, but among the issues in the trial was what happened immediately afterward. Collins was beaten with the butt of his own rifle, and the coroner couldn’t say for sure what killed him: the shot to the torso or the blows to the head.
Khristian maintained that he didn’t beat Collins, and no physical evidence connected him to the beating. After the shot, Khristian testified, he picked up Lonny, whose leg was bleeding, and carried him out to the car, where only Sonya remained.
At Khristian’s trial, the Rubalcaba brothers testified that it was Khristian who beat the old man. Bennie now says that the prosecutors coached him and his brother. In return for their cooperation, the Rubalcabas received light sentences: 10 years for Lonny; five for Bennie.
Khristian was sentenced to die.
In his 10 years on death row, Khristian earned a paralegal degree. He illustrated books for his daughter. And he began reading the classics that his father loves: the works of Plato, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Significantly, the once rebellious son of painters began to paint, working with the cheap watercolor sets available in prison. On visits, his parents would give him “challenges” to sharpen his skills.
Alvia Wardlaw, who curated Kermit Oliver’s 2005 retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, says that as Khristian developed as a painter his works filled with color and light. Like Kermit, he began to paint the allegories.
Supporters have sent letters to Gov. Rick Perry pleading for a stay of execution — time to run DNA tests on the rifle — or that his sentence be changed to life in prison.
On Wednesday, Houston friends of the family were considering where they could gather to wait for tonight’s news. One possibility was Trinity Episcopal Church’s Morrow Chapel, where the altarpiece is a painting Kermit made a few years after Khristian’s trial. Resurrection is one of his most powerful works.
In the painting, a risen Christ faces the viewer. His head is wreathed in lilies; burial cloths float around him. Behind him is an apocalyptic-looking orange cloud: something horrible, but something past.
In a statement for the church, Kermit spent four pages explaining the painting’s dense symbolism, its visual representations of rebirth, of triumph over death, of Original Sin atoned for, of fallen mankind redeemed.
But the statement didn’t mention the most striking symbol: As the model for Christ, Kermit used Khristian.