- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

From combined dispatches

The Supreme Court let stand yesterday a ruling that overturned the death penalty for a Colorado murderer because jurors during deliberations had been improperly influenced by passages from the Bible.

The justices declined to review a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for Robert Harlan because jurors brought a Bible into the jury room and discussed the passage about “an eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

Without comment or recorded dissent, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Colorado prosecutors who argued the introduction of the Bible into death penalty jury deliberations did not automatically violate the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

Harlan was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a cocktail waitress who was on her way home from work at a casino. He also was convicted of shooting another woman who had given the waitress a ride.

According to the evidence, jurors brought a Bible, a Bible index and hand-written notes containing the location of passages into the jury room to share with another juror.

One passage stated: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it, but whoever kills a man shall be put to death.”

A trial judge overturned the death sentence after concluding that a reasonable possibility existed that use of the Bible would influence a typical juror to vote for the death penalty.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed. “We can no longer say that Harlan’s death sentence was not influenced by passion, prejudice or some other arbitrary factor,” it ruled.

In the first day of its new term yesterday, the Supreme Court also:

• Turned down an appeal from the Boston Globe and a former reporter in a $2 million defamation judgment stemming from the paper’s refusal to reveal a confidential source. (Globe Newspaper Co. v. Ayash, 04-1634)

• Refused to consider whether students at Boca Raton Community High School in Florida had a free-speech right to paint religious messages on a wall mural. (Bannon v. School District of Palm Beach County, 04-1207)

• Rejected an appeal from Nevada tax protester Irwin Schiff who was barred from selling a book that claims paying federal income tax is voluntary. (Schiff v. United States, 04-1383)

• Refused to consider a challenge to mandatory DNA profiling of Georgia felons. (Boulineau v. Donald, 04-1616)

• Decided not to consider a challenge to an ordinance in Catlettsburg, Ky., prohibiting people from putting handbills on parked cars. (Jobe v. City of Catlettsburg, 05-188)

• Denied a request to consider whether an illegal seizure took place when a Maine driver charged with drunken driving rolled down the window of his parked car after a police officer tapped on it. (Maine v. Patterson, 04-1491)

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