Bible at issue in Texas execution case
A 32-year-old man convicted of using a rifle to fatally beat and shoot an
East Texas man during a burglary is headed to the death chamber.
It's a case where lawyers questioned whether jurors in their deliberations
may have improperly used a Bible to justify their decisions.
State and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have upheld
the conviction and death sentence of Khristian Oliver. He's condemned for
the 1998 slaying of 64-year-old Joe Collins at his home outside
Oliver's attorneys went back to the high court and have appealed to Gov.
Rick Perry to halt the Thursday evening execution. It would be the 20th
this year in Texas.
Since lethal injections began in Texas in 1982, Perry and his predecessors
rarely have used their authority to issue a 1-time 30-day reprieve.
(source: Associated Press)
Life, death and the prodigal son
Every death penalty case raises big, Biblical themes: vengeance versus
mercy, punishment versus redemption, the Old Testament versus the New.
But never have those themes been plainer than they are in the case of
32-year-old Khristian Oliver, who pending a last-minute stay of execution
will be executed this evening.
During his murder trial in Nacogdoches, jurors brought four Bibles into
the jury room. To decide his fate, they turned to the Old Testament, to
eye-for-an-eye verses including Numbers 35:19: The revenger of blood shall
himself slay the murderer; when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
Of course, jurors are supposed to interpret state law, not the Bible. The
5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those jurors had crossed an
important line by using specific Bible verses to decide whether Oliver
would live or die, that the U.S. Constitution prohibits that sort of
"external influence." And last month, Amnesty International called to have
Khristian's sentence commuted.
But so far, the Old Testament penalty stands.
Biblical themes have long been the domain of Khristian's father, Kermit
Oliver, a well-known painter and the first African-American artist
represented by a major Houston gallery.
Kermit often used his family as models in his allegorical paintings: His
fans recognize his wife, Katie, who is also a painter, and their 3
children. Khristian, the youngest, is the blond one, the boy who looks
white, lighter-skinned even than his light-skinned parents. Not long after
his birth, he was the central figure in Young Mitras in Gown Designed for
His Presentation to the Temple.
In 1984, when Khristian was about 7, the Olivers left Houston for Waco,
where Katie had inherited a house. Khristian didn't fit easily with either
the black kids or the white kids in that black-and-white town, and he
found little in-between. But he made OK grades, ran cross-country and
belonged to a Catholic church.
Somewhere around his high-school graduation, though, he lost his bearings.
He fought with his parents and fell in with a bad crowd. A roommate taught
him burglary. He fathered a child. He smoked pot. No longer baby Mitras in
grand robes, he became a different figure entirely: a prodigal son.
Every tragedy has a point of no return, and Khristian's came on March 17,
1998, when he was 21. He smoked a joint with Sonya Reed, the 23-year-old
mother of his baby girl, and with two teenage brothers, Lonny and Bennie
Rubalcaba. Then the 4 of them drove around Nacogdoches, looking for an
empty house to break into. Khristian carried his gun but didn't plan to
At a promising-looking house, they broke a window, making a lot of noise
to see whether anyone would come investigate. No one did, so Khristian and
Lonny ventured inside. Sonya and Bennie stayed in the car.
Soon, all hell broke loose. When the house's owner, 64-year-old Joe
Collins, returned home, Khristian and Lonny ran for the back door. But it
was locked from the outside.
Collins, carrying a rifle, had the boys cornered. He shot Lonny in the
Khristian shot back.
Charged with killing Collins, Khristian stood trial in Nacogdoches.
Collins was white, and so was the jury.
The state designated Khristian's as "white," too, but the jury was free to
draw its own conclusions. His darker-skinned parents sat behind him every
Khristian never denied shooting the homeowner, but among the issues in the
trial was what happened immediately afterward. Collins was beaten with the
butt of his own rifle, and the coroner couldn't say for sure what killed
him: the shot to the torso or the blows to the head.
Khristian maintained that he didn't beat Collins, and no physical evidence
connected him to the beating. After the shot, Khristian testified, he
picked up Lonny, whose leg was bleeding, and carried him out to the car,
where only Sonya remained.
At Khristian's trial, the Rubalcaba brothers testified that it was
Khristian who beat the old man. Bennie now says that the prosecutors
coached him and his brother. In return for their cooperation, the
Rubalcabas received light sentences: 10 years for Lonny; five for Bennie.
Khristian was sentenced to die.
In his 10 years on death row, Khristian earned a paralegal degree. He
illustrated books for his daughter. And he began reading the classics that
his father loves: the works of Plato, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Significantly, the once rebellious son of painters began to paint, working
with the cheap watercolor sets available in prison. On visits, his parents
would give him "challenges" to sharpen his skills.
Alvia Wardlaw, who curated Kermit Oliver's 2005 retrospective at the
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, says that as Khristian developed as a
painter his works filled with color and light. Like Kermit, he began to
paint the allegories.
Supporters have sent letters to Gov. Rick Perry pleading for a stay of
execution time to run DNA tests on the rifle or that his sentence be
changed to life in prison.
On Wednesday, Houston friends of the family were considering where they
could gather to wait for tonight's news. One possibility was Trinity
Episcopal Church's Morrow Chapel, where the altarpiece is a painting
Kermit made a few years after Khristian's trial. Resurrection is one of
his most powerful works.
In the painting, a risen Christ faces the viewer. His head is wreathed in
lilies; burial cloths float around him. Behind him is an
apocalyptic-looking orange cloud: something horrible, but something past.
In a statement for the church, Kermit spent 4 pages explaining the
painting's dense symbolism, its visual representations of rebirth, of
triumph over death, of Original Sin atoned for, of fallen mankind
But the statement didn't mention the most striking symbol: As the model
for Christ, Kermit used Khristian.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
No separation between church and state in Texas execution
Waco Texas police departmentKristian Oliver is scheduled to be killed by
lethal injection Thursday in Texas for the robbery and shooting death of a
64-year-old man in March 1998. But Oliver, 32, was sentenced to death
after the jury passed around and consulted bibles as they deliberated. One
person on the jury read aloud highlighted passages supporting capital
punishment. One of those passages was "And if he smite him with an
instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer," followed by "the
murderer shall surely be put to death."
The U.S. Constitution prohibits juries from "external influence," and many
are questioning if Mr. Oliver should be executed, but every appeal Oliver
has made has been ignored. High courts do not believe that the biblical
passages influenced the jury. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the
Amnesty International is pushing for Oliver's death sentence to be
vacated. In their campaign to save Oliver, they say, "Even supporters of
the death penalty will agree that no one should ever be executed if there
is any suggestion of any unfair trial. Khristian Oliver's trial wasn't
just unfair; it was a travesty." They add that "the Texan Board of Pardon
and Paroles should now instruct the state governor to commute Mr. Oliver's
death sentence and indeed he should himself stay the execution if the
board fails to act." AI has an open appeal that can be signed at their
Jerry Ward, from The Armband Protest Against the Death Penalty, agrees,
stating in a circulated email to his subscribers, that "This is clearly a
violation of Mr. Oliver's federally guaranteed constitutional rights.
Texas must not execute Khristian Oliver."
Even the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the jurors "had
crossed an important line." Yet Oliver's death sentence was not vacated.
In 2005 Colorado's Supreme Court struck down Robert Harlan's death
sentence after the jury consulted bibles before sentencing him to death.
Amnesty International and Jerry Ward are also protesting the November 10
scheduled execution of DC Sniper, John Allen Muhammad in Virginia.
(source: The Examiner)