DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court (search) on Monday threw out the death penalty in a rape-and-murder case because jurors had studied Bible verses such as "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" during deliberations.
On a 3-2 vote, justices ordered Robert Harlan (search) to serve life in prison without parole for kidnapping 25-year-old cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994, raping her at gunpoint for two hours and then fatally shooting her.
The jurors in Harlan's 1995 trial sentenced him to die, but defense lawyers discovered five of them had looked up Bible (search) verses, copied them down and talked about them while deliberating a sentence behind closed doors.
The Supreme Court said "at least one juror in this case could have been influenced by these authoritative passages to vote for the death penalty when he or she may otherwise have voted for a life sentence."
Assistant District Attorney Michael Goodbee said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling and could ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider or could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
During oral arguments before the Supreme Court last month, defense attorney Kathleen Lord said the jurors had gone outside the law. "They went to the Bible to find out God's position on capital punishment," she said.
Prosecutors had argued jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other religious texts during deliberations.
Gov. Bill Owens said the ruling was "demeaning to people of faith and prevents justice from being served."