23 August 2005 :a US state supreme court has quashed a death sentence handed down to Robert Harlan because jurors consulted the Bible in reaching their verdict. The Colorado Supreme Court on March 28 ruled that the Bible, which includes the premise of "eye for an eye" justice, constituted an improper outside influence and a reliance on what the judges called a "higher authority."
The decision comes amid raging debates in deeply Christian and increasingly conservative America about the role of religion in the justice system in such issues as euthanasia, abortion and capital punishment.
"The judicial system works very hard to emphasize the rarefied, solemn and sequestered nature of jury deliberations," the judges said in a three-to-two decision. "Jurors must deliberate in that atmosphere without the aid or distraction of extraneous texts," they added.
The decision reversed the death penalty imposed on Harlan, found guilty in 1995 of raping and murdering a cocktail waitress near the city of Denver.
After delivering a guilty verdict, the jury retired to consider whether to sentence Harlan to death, with the trial judge telling them each to make an "individual moral assessment," in deciding Harlan's fate.
The panel of 12 voted unanimously to condemn him to death and later admitted during an appeal hearing that they had consulted the Bible in making their decision. One panellist said she studied Romans and Leviticus, including Leviticus 24, which includes the famous articulation of Old Testament justice: "eye for eye, tooth for tooth."
Under the March 28 decision, Harlan's sentence was reduced to life in jail without parole.
He was convicted of kidnapping and raping waitress Rhonda Maloney. She then escaped and hailed down a passing car, but Harlan caught up with her, shot the driver, leaving her paralysed, and then beat and killed Maloney.