Scripture cited, upheld in Texas murder case
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge from a Texas death row
inmate who claimed his constitutional rights were violated by jurors who
consulted a Bible during deliberations.
The case involves Khristian Oliver, who shot and then bludgeoned his
victim with the barrel of a gun. Jury members read Numbers 35:16, which
calls for the death penalty if the victim is killed with an instrument of
iron. Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel is pleased with the high court's
"I think what we don't want to do is to force prosecutors to censor all of
their words from any kind of religious content or from even quoting or
referencing the Bible," he contends.
Staver admits there are rules of conduct in the jury room, but found no
harm in the Bible reference. "Obviously jurors need to make their decision
based on the facts before them and the evidence that's presented, or in
fact, not presented," Staver notes, "but merely referencing the Bible —
by either the prosecutor or by a juror — is not something that undermines
the jury system."
He adds that "to cleanse those kinds of discussions or words from any kind
of courtroom would be an anathema to our Christian and religious heritage.
It would ultimately set the government on a collision course against
Local attorney wins round for client on death row
A longtime death row inmate represented by a San Marcos attorney has been
granted a new punishment phase after the state's highest criminal appeals
court ruled that jurors at his 1985 trial were not told they could
consider childhood abuse as cause to spare his life.
Gene Hathorn Jr., now 48, was convicted 24 years ago of killing his
father, Gene Hathorn Sr., with a shotgun at his family's home in Trinity
County. Hathorn's stepmother and half-brother were also killed, crimes for
which Hathorn was charged but never tried. An accomplice and former
co-worker at Rusk State Hospital, James Lee Beathard, was executed in 1999
for his role in the murders.
In an April 8 ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said the
original trial judge's instruction to jurors were not flawed by legal
standards of the time but are inadequate in light of subsequent case law
established by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Rather than characterize this as a jury charge error, we interpret the
Supreme Court cases related to this particular issue to have broader due
process implications," Judge Lawrence Meyer wrote. "It is likely that the
jury believed that all they needed to decide was whether he had acted
deliberately and would likely be dangerous in the future, disregarding any
concern they may feel that, given [Hathorne's] troubled childhood, he may
not deserve a death sentence."
According to court records, Hathorn testified that his father regularly
beat him and at one point shot his dog which Hawthorn then had to bury.
Prosecutors said Hathorn sought to plant hairs and cigarette butts to
implicate black people and intended to inherit his fathers $150,000
estate, not knowing he had been cut out the will weeks before.
Hathorne could receive another death sentence in his new punishment phase
but his case will be helped, attorney David Sergi said, because "he has an
almost perfect record while he's been in prison."
Sergi, who has 4 other death row clients, said, "I'm frankly opposed to
the death penalty on moral grounds, but we've seen so many mistakes made
in prosecutions. Once you've executed somebody, its hard to make things
One of the longest-serving of 350 prisoners on Texas' death row, Hathorn
achieved international notoriety last fall when he agreed, should he lose
his appeals, to let goldfish eat his corpse as part of a death penalty
protest by Danish artist Marco Evaristti.
(source: San Marcos Mercury)