The following comes from a December 8 San Diego Union-Tribune article by Kristina Davis:
A judge has overturned the death sentence in the murder of an Oceanside housewife, finding the prosecutor committed “egregious misconduct” by telling jurors the Bible calls for murderers to be sentenced to death.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller wrote that the repeated quotations and references to biblical law in the prosecutor’s closing statements were so inflammatory that they affected the outcome of Rudolph Roybal’s 1992 trial.
The ruling directs prosecutors to either grant Roybal, 59, a new penalty phase trial to determine if he should be sentenced to death, or to resentence him to life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors have about four months to decide how to proceed.
When it came time for closing statements during the 1992 trial, Deputy District Attorney James Koerber told jurors: “There is another book, written long ago, that mentions the crime of murder, and mentions what is the appropriate penalty for the crime of murder, and that book says a couple of different things.
“It says, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ It says, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’” Koerber continued. “It says ‘And if he smite with an instrument of iron so that he die, he is a murderer. The murderer shall surely be put to death.’ It says, moreover, ‘Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer which is guilty of death, but shall be surely put to death.’”
Alex Simpson, a professor at California Western School of Law, said the issue is less about the Bible than the prosecutor asking the jury to make a decision based on something other than the evidence presented in the case.
“It’s an appeal to an authority or other evidence that shouldn’t be considered by the jury,” Simpson said in an interview. “In reality, the only thing a jury should do is consider what are the facts and how do the facts inform my decision to vote one way or the other.”