The Colorado Supreme Court threw out the death penalty in a rape and murder case Monday because jurors had studied Bible verses during deliberations.
On a 3-2 vote, justices ordered Robert Harlan to serve life in prison without parole for kidnapping 25-year-old cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994, raping her at gunpoint and fatally shooting her.
The jurors in Harlan’s 1995 trial sentenced him to die, but defense lawyers discovered five of them had looked up Bible verses, copied them and talked about them while deliberating a sentence behind closed doors.
The Supreme Court said that “at least one juror in this case could have been influenced by these authoritative passages to vote for the death penalty when he or she may otherwise have voted for a life sentence.”
Assistant Dist. Atty. Michael Goodbee said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling and could ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider or could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2003, a district judge had ordered a new sentencing hearing because of the jury’s use of the Bible.
During oral arguments before the state Supreme Court last month, defense lawyer Kathleen Lord said jurors had gone outside the law: “They went to the Bible to find out God’s position on capital punishment.”
Prosecutors had argued jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other religious texts during deliberations.
Gov. Bill Owens said the ruling was “demeaning to people of faith and prevents justice from being served.”