Attorneys for one of the death row artists who was in our 2006 art show “Justice for All?” Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty“, Khristian Oliver, on Jan 5, 2009 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court opinion (PDF) rejecting their claim that jurors’ use of the Bible in deliberations violated Oliver’s constitutional rights.
From an IHT story:
“This is headed toward a showdown on a very fundamental question on the use of the Bible,” Winston Cochran, Oliver’s lawyer, said.
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.
Defense lawyers interviewing jurors after Oliver’s capital murder trial discovered jurors had Bibles with them during deliberations.
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.
“What do you expect them to say?” Cochran said. “Some judge is scowling at them. Are they going to come in there and say they’ve just ruined your five-week death penalty trial?
“It’s error, absolutely error. To me, if there’s any doubt about it, you ought to either just commute the guy to life or do a new punishment hearing. The sensible thing would be to commute it to life.”
Oliver is at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison where inmates undergo treatment for psychiatric conditions and could not be interviewed.