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Apr 21 2009
should primitive biblical punishments influence US juries?

This story concerns a case in which a jury may have given a convicted murderer a harsher sentence because of a bible quote.

Oliver, 31, from Waco, was condemned for the slaying of Joe Collins, 64, during a March 1998 break-in at Collins' rural East Texas home. Three of Oliver's companions received prison terms ranging from five to 99 years.

...Collins was shot and then struck with the barrel of a gun...

Certainly, Oliver should receive punishment after being convicted of such a crime. But, should the choice of punishment be determined by the ancient, desert dwelling authors of the bible?

At issue was a passage in Chapter 35 of Numbers which, in the New American Standard Bible, reads: "But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death." Some translations refer to the weapon as an "iron rod."

The jurors really did discuss this passage of the bible and whether the barrel of the gun that Oliver used to hit the victim could be likened to an iron rod before sentencing him to death.

The court may be right that the sentence would have been the same even if this discussion had taken place. But, I'd really like to see them make a bigger deal about the fact that the bible is not part of the judicial system in this country. SC cannot use the biblical prohibition on eating pork and shrimp to close down just about every restaurant in the lowcountry, and we cannot be arrested for working on the sabbath. This passage about the iron rod is no more relevant to this murder trial than the passage (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) commanding parents to kill their disobedient children could be used as a defense for child abuse.

Of course, I don't want to see a murderer set free. But, if he received a harsher sentence than his friends because the bible said so, then maybe he should at least be resentenced.

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