- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

DENVER — Barry Arrington can quote entire books of the Bible from memory, which could present a problem if he’s ever called for jury duty, given a decision this week by the Colorado Supreme Court.

In a 3-2 ruling, the state’s high court upheld a lower court’s decision to spare convicted murderer Robert Harlan from execution because jurors consulted a Bible during the sentencing phase. Harlan instead will receive life in prison without parole.

The decision has touched off protests from Christians and social conservatives, including Mr. Arrington, who see it as another example of a judiciary determined to marginalize traditional beliefs.

“Does this mean I can never sit on a jury?” said Mr. Arrington, a lawyer from Arvada, Colo. “Everyone brings a store of cultural, religious and moral values to the jury room. Would it have been different if someone merely quoted the Bible from memory?”

In its opinion, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled jurors went beyond relying on their own individual religious knowledge when they brought a Bible into the deliberation room. One of the verses consulted by jurors was Leviticus 24:20-21, the “eye for an eye” passage.

“Some jurors may view biblical texts like the Leviticus passage at issue here as a factual representation of God’s will,” the court said. “The text may also be viewed as a legal instruction, issuing from God, requiring a particular and mandatory punishment for murder.”

Republican Gov. Bill Owens criticized the decision as “demeaning to people of faith” and said it would allow a murderer to avoid execution on “a technicality.”

In the dissent, Justice Nancy E. Rice said the presumption that jurors could not distinguish between biblical passages and jury instructions “is to underestimate their intelligence and to belittle their participation in our legal system.”

Harlan, 40, was sentenced to death in 1995 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney. Harlan also shot and paralyzed Jacquie Creazzo, a good Samaritan who tried to aid Miss Maloney during an escape attempt.

Harlan’s attorneys argued that the jury violated the judge’s instructions when they brought outside materials into the jury room.

“It’s a well-established rule that jurors can’t consult outside sources in their decision-making, whether it’s the Bible or ‘The DaVinci Code,’” said Ayesha N. Khan, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

But the decision’s critics said it would be impossible for most people to put aside their religious or moral beliefs when weighing life or death. They also argue that the Bible contains other passages that could be cited to oppose a death sentence, such as Jesus’s admonition to “turn the other cheek.”

The Adams County District Attorney’s Office now is considering whether to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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