Bible Consultation May Invalidate Death Sentence

February 2 2005, 7:27 AM

The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in Robert Harlan's death penalty appeal, stemming from the 1994 rape and murder of casino cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney. Although the jury voted for death, the trial court later threw out the death penalty when the defense learned that five jurors had consulted the Bible during deliberations:

Defense attorneys challenged the sentence after discovering five jurors had looked up Bible verses, copied some of them down and then talked about them behind closed doors.

Among the verses that were looked up: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." At Tuesday's hearing, at least one justice was critical of the prosecution's argument that jurors did nothing wrong:

"Don't we have a duty to make sure the death penalty isn't imposed under religious passion or prejudice?" Justice Gregory Hobbs asked. Hobbs also asked whether the verses the jurors referred to were part of Colorado law. "Passion and prejudice is not, but morality is," [D.A. Steven ]Bernard responded.

Morality isn't the issue. Nor is religion. Colorado law is clear that jurors cannot bring any outside materials into the jury room during deliberations. Period. This was a particularly heinous crime.

Harlan was convicted in 1995 of kidnapping casino worker Rhonda Maloney and raping her at gunpoint for two hours before killing her. Maloney was shot to death after almost escaping. She slipped away from Harlan and flagged down Jaquie Creazzo, a passing motorist on Interstate 70. Creazzo was taking Maloney to the Thornton Police Department when the pursuing gunman fired at her vehicle, hitting her in the back.

If the justuces rule in Harlan's favor, he will not go free. Ever. His sentence will be life without the possibility of parole. Aren't we all better served if the death penalty goes and the rule of law stays? The case is now "under advisement" while the Justices formulate their opinion.