Jurors who consulted a Bible before sentencing a murderer to death engaged in misconduct, but it didn't influence their verdict, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The unanimous decision means that Bob Williams Jr., who was convicted of raping and murdering a Bakersfield woman during a 1994 burglary, will be executed, barring further appeals.
A juror copied pages from a Bible and read some of the verses aloud in the deliberations room, including a New Testament exhortation to submit to the authority of magistrates, according to the ruling.
In a decision by Justice Carlos R. Moreno, the court ruled that the verse "merely counseled deference to governmental authority and affirmed the validity of sitting in judgment on one's fellow human beings according to the law."
The defense attorney, Charles M. Bonneau, said the decision could inaugurate an era in which both prosecutors and defense attorneys rely on Biblical citations in presenting their cases.
"The court ostensibly says it is error" to use the Bible, but "doesn't really treat it as error," Bonneau said.
The state agreed that jurors should not consider anything outside of the courtroom in their deliberations, but argued that the misconduct did not affect the jury's decision in favor of execution.
In an earlier case, the high court found that a verdict was not prejudiced by jurors who considered a verse from the Old Testament that defined murder.
"The ruling reaffirms existing case law," said Nathan Barankin, communications director for the state attorney general. "The test is whether extraneous evidence, the Bible or otherwise, that was not presented to the jury during the trial influences the verdict."