Bible use by jurors at center of Colorado death penalty challenge
DENVER – Jurors who sentenced a convicted killer to die did nothing wrong when they studied the Bible during deliberations – including the verse that commands “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” prosecutors told the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday as they sought to have the man put back on death row.A lower court threw out the death penalty given to Robert Harlan for raping and murdering a 25-year-old cocktail waitress in 1994. Defense attorneys challenged the sentence after discovering five jurors had looked up Bible verses, copied some of them down and then talked about them behind closed doors.Adams County prosecutor Steven Bernard asked the justices to restore the death sentence, saying jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other religious texts. He said a juror’s religious beliefs aren’t prejudicial or extraneous to a trial, prompting sharp questions from some of the justices.”Don’t we have a duty to make sure the death penalty isn’t imposed under religious passion or prejudice?” Justice Gregory Hobbs asked.Hobbs also asked whether the verses the jurors referred to were part of Colorado law.”Passion and prejudice is not, but morality is,” Bernard responded.Defense attorney Kathleen Lord said jurors had gone outside the law: “They went to the Bible to find out God’s position on capital punishment.”Lord sparred briefly with Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, who asked whether the trial judge had specifically barred jurors from consulting the Bible. Lord said she didn’t know but argued that the answer didn’t matter.”It doesn’t require a violation of a court order, there just has to be exposure” to extraneous or prejudicial information to declare the sentence invalid, she said.Harlan was convicted in 1995 of kidnapping casino worker Rhonda Maloney and raping her at gunpoint for two hours before killing her.Maloney was shot to death after almost escaping. She slipped away from Harlan and flagged down Jaquie Creazzo, a passing motorist. Creazzo was taking Maloney to a police department when the pursuing gunman fired at her vehicle, hitting her in the back.When the car came to a stop, the gunman pulled Maloney from the car and left. Her body was found a week later under a bridge. Creazzo was paralyzed from the chest down.Harlan admitted killing Maloney but said he was addled by cocaine, alcohol and rage.Christopher Mueller, a University of Colorado law professor, said jurors should be able to rely on their beliefs.”We want juries to apply their sense of moral principle,” he said. “We probably don’t want them to apply specific texts from the Bible, like ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”‘University of Denver law professor Karen Steinhauser said religion is not the issue in Harlan’s case.”It is an issue of whether the jury can use outside sources to allow them to make a decision in the case, and I think the law is pretty clear here that they cannot,” she said.The justices took the case under advisement.
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