USA: Time running out for man facing execution after jurors used 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

‘The fact that a man’s life hangs by a thread because of scripture is shocking’ - Kate Allen

A man sentenced to death in the USA after a jury consulted the Bible to decide his fate is now only a day away from execution, warned Amnesty International, as it called on the governor in the state of Texas to intervene to prevent the execution.

Thirty-two-year-old Khristian Oliver is set to be executed at 6pm Texas time (12 midnight GMT) in the Huntsville prison in Texas tomorrow. In Texas the Board of Pardons and Paroles has the power to recommend that the governor commute a death sentence, which it has not so far done. However, the state governor Rick Perry can still issue a stay of execution (and request that the paroles board reconsider its decision if it is a negative one), and Amnesty has issued an “urgent action” appeal ( www.amnesty.org.uk/deathpenalty ) and its supporters are calling on Governor Perry to intervene.

Khristian Oliver 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 the following passage from the Bible to a group of 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.” 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 said 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 also said that if he’d been told he could not consult the Bible: “I would have left the courtroom”. He described life imprisonment as a “burden” on the taxpayer.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Time is running out for Khristian Oliver and we’re calling on Governor Rick Perry to step in to stop this execution.

“Governor Perry must surely recognise that it’s totally unacceptable for juries in Texas to use the Bible in their deliberations. A court of law is not a prayer meeting and the fact that a man’s life hangs by a thread because of scripture is shocking.

“The governor must intervene to try to preserve the reputation of Texas and see that justice is now done in this case.”

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 42 executions (an average of almost one per week), 19 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 1977 the USA has executed 1,178 people

From 1973 to the present 139 people have been released from death row in the USA on the grounds of innocence (an average of four exonerations per year)

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

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