Death sentence upheld despite jury's Bible use

The Baltimore Sun

The federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld yesterday a death sentence from a jury that had consulted the Bible's teachings on capital punishment.

In a second decision on the role of religion in the criminal justice system, the same court ruled Friday that requiring a former prisoner on parole to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous violated the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion.

In the case decided yesterday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals split 9-6 on the question of whether notes, including Bible verses prepared by the jury's foreman and used during sentencing deliberations, required the reversal of the death sentence imposed on Stevie L. Fields in 1979.

Fields committed a number of rapes, kidnappings and robberies, and murdered Rosemary Cobbs.

After the jury convicted Fields and while it was deliberating on his sentence, the foreman, Rodney White, conducted outside research, consulting several reference works and preparing a list of pros and cons on the death penalty. On the pro side, he quoted passages from the Bible.

Judge Pamela Ann Rymer, writing for the majority, said there was no need to decide whether there had been juror misconduct "because even assuming there was, we are persuaded that White's notes had no substantial and injurious effect or influence."

In Friday's decision, a unanimous three-judge panel of the court ruled that a parole officer in Hawaii who ordered a methamphetamine addict on parole to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous could be sued for violating the addict's constitutional rights.

The case was brought by Ricky K. Inouye, who was released on parole in 2000 after serving time for drug crimes. His parole officer ordered him to attend AA meetings. Inouye, a Buddhist, refused. Partly as a result, he was returned to prison.

That violated the First Amendment, the panel ruled.

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