Texas, USA: Man faces execution after jurors consulted bible to decide his fate

‘And if he smite him with an instrument of iron … the murderer shall surely be put to death’ - Biblical passage relied on by jurors

Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal for a man facing execution in three weeks’ time despite the fact that jurors at his trial consulted passages from the Bible in deciding his fate.

Thirty-two-year-old Khristian Oliver is set to be executed in Texas, USA on 5 November. He was sentenced to death in 1999 for a murder committed during a burglary. While deciding whether he should live or die, jurors at his trial consulted copies of the Bible, including text supporting the death penalty, calling into serious question their impartiality.

In a post-trial hearing four jurors acknowledged to the judge that several Bibles had been present in the jury room, that highlighted passages were passed between jurors, and that one juror read aloud from the Bible to a group of fellow jurors, including the passage: “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”. However, the trial judge ruled the jury had not acted improperly, a view upheld by a Texas appeals court.

Further revelations have followed. In 2002, a journalist interviewed another juror who said that “about 80%” of the jurors had “brought scripture into the deliberation”, and that the jurors had consulted the Bible “long before we ever reached a verdict”. He told the journalist that he believed “the Bible is truth from page one to the last page”, and that if civil law and Biblical law were in conflict the latter should prevail. He said that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible: “I would have left the courtroom”. He described himself as a death penalty supporter and life imprisonment as a “burden” on the taxpayer.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Religious texts provide consolation and spiritual guidance for billions of people the world over, but this use of the Bible to decide life or death in a capital trial is deeply, deeply troubling.

“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.

“The Texas Board of Pardons 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.”

Death row in the USA: some key facts

Texas is one of 35 US states to retain the death penalty

The USA has seen a fall in the number of executions in recent years, but it still executes dozens of people every year - last year there were 37 executions (the fourth highest number of any country in the world)

To date in 2009 there have been 39 executions (an average of one a week), 18 of these in Texas

Khristian Oliver is one of 358 inmates (348 men, 10 Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights) on death row in Texas

Since 1976 the USA has executed 1,175 people

From 1973 to the present 138 people have been released from death row in the USA on the grounds of innocence (an average of three exonerations per year)

Some 3,300 prisoners remain on death row in the USA

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