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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Contact Governor Perry to Urge Clemency for Khristian Oliver, Whose Jury Consulted the Bible During Deliberations on Death Penalty

In the first of five executions scheduled in Texas in November, Khristian Oliver is scheduled for execution on Thursday, November 5 (Execution Schedule). He was sentenced to death by a jury whose members consulted the Bible during their deliberations on whether Oliver should receive the death penalty.


If someone is to be sentenced to death, the decision of the jury should be based on the laws of the State of Texas and not the Bible. Khristian Oliver had a right to be sentenced in accordance with the laws of Texas, not those of the Bible. People can of course pray and consult their faith values individually whenever they want, but jurors should not read scripture to each other in the jury room to justify a death sentence, they should only consult the laws of Texas as explained to them by the judge.

During deliberations on sentencing, one of the jurors apparently read the following passage aloud to his fellow jurors: “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.” Another juror, a death penalty supporter, later told the media that “about 80 per cent” of the jurors had “brought scripture into the deliberation”, and that if civil law and biblical law were in conflict, the latter should prevail. And he said that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible, “I would have left the courtroom.”

In recent weeks, a new juror has also come forward to acknowledge the role that the Bible played in their deliberations. Juror Teresa L. Short (formerly Schnelzer) has confirmed that jurors consulted the Bible at the very outset of their deliberations on the question of whether Oliver should be sentenced to death. Like the others, she recalls which Bible passages were read, and she specifically notes that jurors looked to and took comfort from the Bible in reaching their decision. (A copy of her affidavit has been provided to the Governor’s office by Mr. Oliver’s counsel.)

According to the Waco Tribune:
Lawyers for Oliver argued in their appeals that the jury had been improperly swayed by Bibles that some jurors had brought with them into their deliberations. The case became the subject of a documentary Eye for an Eye and a book by Danish journalist Egon Clausen.

But the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2008 that while the Bibles should not have been allowed into the deliberation room, there was no clear evidence to indicate they had affected the jurors’ decision. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Oliver’s appeal, and on June 29, 145th District Court Judge Campbell Cox set a Nov. 5 execution date.

Call Governor Perry at 512 463 1782 or by sending him an email through his websiteto stop the execution of Khristian Oliver by issuing a 30-day stay of execution. You can explain that you are not seeking to excuse violent crime or to downplay the suffering caused to its victims, but that you think jurors unfairly sentenced him to death based on scripture and not solely on the Laws of the State of Texas, as they were required under Texas law and the U.S. Constitution.

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428 Austin, TX 78711-2428
Fax: 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor Perry

More on the case from the Guardian:
The Texas jury didn't hesitate to find Khristian Oliver guilty of shooting and bludgeoning an elderly man to death. Oliver had stood over his bleeding victim, repeatedly hitting him in the head with a rifle butt before robbing his house.

But then came the difficult decision over whether to sentence Oliver to death, and that's when the Bibles came into their own.

A clutch of jurors huddled in the corner with one reading aloud from the Book of Numbers: "The murderer shall surely be put to death" and "The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer."

Another juror highlighted passages which she showed to a fellow juror: "And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, the murderer shall surely be put to death."

Ten years later Oliver, now 32, is just three weeks from execution. Two appeals courts have rejected his pleas for the jury's death sentence in 1999 to be overturned on the grounds it was improperly influenced by references to the Bible. Some of the jurors have made no secret of the part their religious beliefs played in reaching their decision but the US supreme court has refused to take up a case that has been condemned as "a travesty".

Amnesty International has said the use of biblical references "to decide life or death in a capital trial is deeply, deeply troubling" and called on the authorities in Texas, which has carried out nearly half of the 39 executions in the US this year, to commute the sentence.

Oliver's lawyers called four members of the jury that convicted him to testify at an appeal hearing. At the hearing, one of them, Kenneth McHaney described how another juror, Kenneth Grace, read the Bible aloud to a group of jurors.

Donna Matheny showed McHaney a Bible in which she highlighted passages including one that "says that if a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, then he is a murderer and should be put to death".

Maxine Symmank told the court that she too had read a passage from the Book of Numbers: "And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death." Another juror, Michael Brenneisen, told a journalist in 2002 that he asked himself "Is this the way the Lord would decide the case?" But Brenneisen also said that in discussing the Bible the jury "went both directions in our use of the scripture - forgiveness and judgement".

McHaney said there were about four Bibles in the jury room.

A Texas state appeal court rejected Oliver's plea to strike down the sentence because, it said, he had not "presented clear and convincing evidence" that the Bible influenced the jury's decision. The court acknowledged that there was reference to the Bible by the jurors but said it was not improper. It said "a conscientious, dedicated" jury was "uninfluenced by any outside influence of any kind shown to the court in this hearing".

A federal appeal court disagreed, saying that references to the Bible inside the jury room were improper but it still refused to overturn the death sentence on the grounds that Oliver's lawyers had not proved that the readings influenced the death penalty decision. The court ruled that the jurors would have applied their own moral judgements which would, in any case, have been influenced by their religious beliefs.

Oliver's lawyer until last month, Winston Cochran, said the rulings are the result of an impossible situation in which he was prevented at the first appeal hearing from directly asking the jurors if the Bible readings had an influence on their decision. The federal court then turned down a subsequent appeal on the grounds that the jurors had not explicitly said they were swayed by the Bible.

"We were prohibited from asking the question we were later being asked to prove," he said.

Cochran also criticised the appeal court view that jurors were merely applying moral beliefs they already held.

"The problem is there was testimony the Bible was passed around and shown to people. It was part of the discussion. It wasn't just used by individuals to reinforce their existing belief," he said.

With the supreme court refusing to take up Oliver's case, his remaining options are the Texas board of pardons and the state governor, Rick Perry. The board of pardons rarely recommends clemency and Perry is unlikely to set aside a death sentence in a deeply religious state on the grounds that jurors referred to the Bible.


One of Khristian's artworks was included in TMN's art show "Justice for All?: Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty". TMN's Scott Cobb has spoken with Khristian's mother several times in the last week. Khristian's parents attended the art show when it was exhibited both in Austin and Houston in 2006 and 2007. Please help them try to stop the execution of their son by contacting the governor.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This post switches back and forth with Khristian Oliver's name. Kristian is used sometimes, and Khristian is used sometimes. The man's name is Khristian Oliver.

Texas Moratorium Network said...

Thanks for catching the typos. We think we fixed all the mistakes.

Anonymous said...

I've written to Perry but highly doubt no matter how many people write will influence him to grant a stay in this case. He believes in putting 'Monsters' to death, irregardless of what type of stench surrounds the execution -stench of a probable innocent man executed or stench of how a verdict was reached in putting a guilty man to death.

The gun-toting, bible spewing and hang'm high state of Texas helped put the United States as one of the top five nations in 2008 for the most executions. Their high rate of executions, with Perry as Governor, helped put the US in 'bed' with the likes of Iran, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Anonymous said...

orI strongly suugest in your endeavors to abolish the death penalty, with especially noting the high rate of executions in Texas, you add the UK newspapers and the EU Office in Washington, DC to your newsletters and notification lists.

The US is condemned by European countries for our death penalty stand and on one of the grounds of the high probability of executing innocent people. Perry was personally visited by the Ambassador from Sweden on behalf of the EU expressing their concerns over the high execution rate in Texas and the probability of executing innocent people.

States with the death penalty bring shame to the US, then let those who permit the executions in those states face the shame in the eyes of the world!

Derek said...

What is the point in writing to this Rick Perry very happy to kill at random in your american prison's, All this is doing is putting the killer's (Perry) name up in light's and this then tell's the world that it is ok to commit murder legally,

The way the us system works is next to torture, keeping them locked up is one thing, but for 20 years and then kill them is another and the latter is wrong except in (Perry's ) eye's then it becomes right. The whole thing is wrong, wrong and wrong. This guy Perry is laughing in your faces at the way you are having to beg for another person's life.....