Supreme Court lets stand death sentence after Bible reading—-A death-row
inmate claimed the jury foreman violated his fair-trial rights by reading
out loud from Romans.
A Texas death-row inmate has lost his bid for a new sentencing hearing
after complaining that the jury foreman at his capital murder trial read a
Bible passage aloud to the entire jury before the panel returned his death
Lawyers for Jimmie Urbano Lucero had asked the US Supreme Court to take up
the case to examine whether reading Bible passages aloud during jury
deliberations violates fair-trial rights guaranteed by the Sixth
On Monday, the high court declined to take up the case. The justices
offered no explanation. The action lets stand decisions by the courts in
Texas affirming Mr. Lucero's death sentence.
Lucero was convicted of carrying out the shotgun murder of three of his
neighbors in 2003: a husband, wife, and their daughter. 2 other children
escaped during the attack and testified against Lucero.
During the penalty phase of the 2005 trial, the jury was asked to decide
whether Lucero should receive punishment of life in prison or a death
sentence. During an initial straw vote, 10 members of the 12-member jury
voted for death. 2 jurors opposed a death sentence.
At that point in the deliberations, the jury foreman produced his personal
Bible and read a passage aloud to the 11 other jurors. He read from Romans
13: 1-6 in the New International Version of the Bible.
It says in part: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing
authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has
established…. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do
wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's
servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."
The Bible reading took about two minutes. The jury continued to deliberate
for several hours. When a new vote was taken, the panel decided 12 to 0 in
favor of death.
At issue in the appeal was whether reading the Bible aloud during jury
deliberations violated the defendant's right to a fair trial. The precise
question was whether the Bible introduced unauthorized materials and
extraneous considerations into the trial process.
Courts in both the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, the Fifth
Circuit in New Orleans, and the 11th Circuit in Atlanta have ruled that
the introduction of a Bible into jury deliberations violates the right to
an impartial jury, the right to confrontation, and the right to a fair
trial. But courts in the Fourth Circuit in Richmond and the Ninth Circuit
in San Francisco have ruled that the presentation of specific Bible verses
during jury deliberations does not violate the Sixth Amendment because the
Bible's teachings are a matter of common knowledge in American culture.
"This case provides an excellent opportunity for the Court to resolve the
split [among federal circuit courts] by reaffirming its longstanding
precedents that the Sixth Amendment guarantees that jury verdicts in
criminal cases will be based on the evidence developed at trial, and
nothing else," wrote Lucero's lawyer, John Mathias of Chicago, in his
brief urging the court to take up the case.
The Texas attorney general's office holds a different view. Courts must
protect an impartial jury from outside influences that might corrupt the
deliberation process, but in the Lucero case the influences were internal
to the jury itself, lawyers for Texas said.
"The Bible had no evidentiary relationship to the jury's punishment
deliberations," said Edward Marshall, chief of the postconviction
litigation division of the attorney general's office, in his brief. "The
Biblical passage from Romans in this case bears no relationship to the
factual issues facing the jury."
Mr. Marshall said that rather than corrupting the deliberations, the Bible
reading reinforced the judge's jury instructions and was harmless to the
outcome of the trial. "It duplicates the trial court's own charge
authorizing the jury to make this moral judgment," he wrote.
Lucero's lawyer, Mr. Mathias, said in his brief that a reasonable
interpretation of Romans 13: 1-6 is that it instructs jurors to engage in
"passive obedience to the state's call for punishment."
He added, "It cannot be said that the passage was harmless beyond any
(source: Christian Science Monitor)