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2009: Khristian Oliver, Bible basher

November 5th, 2009 John Temple

(Thanks to John Temple, author of The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates and journalism professor at West Virginia University, for the guest post. -ed.)

Barring a last-minute stay of execution, Khristian Oliver will be put to death late this afternoon.

(Update: Khristian Oliver has indeed been executed as scheduled. His likeness lives on in an altarpiece made by his father, an artist.)

In 1998, Oliver, now 32, shot and killed a man whose home he was burglarizing. Oliver’s guilt isn’t being questioned. The argument his attorneys and supporters are using to stave off his upcoming execution has to do with how the jurors in his case handled his sentencing.

An Oct. 15 story in The Guardian described the scene in the jury room this way:

A clutch of jurors huddled in the corner with one reading aloud from the Book of Numbers: “The murderer shall surely be put to death” and “The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer.”

Another juror highlighted passages which she showed to a fellow juror: “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, the murderer shall surely be put to death.” (Apparently one of the same passages, Numbers 35:16, in fuller context.)

Juries debating this most difficult decision often reach for Biblical guidance, and there are no shortage of verses that relate to capital punishment, including the famous “eye for an eye” passage(s). Courts have ruled this improper, not because the Bible is a religious document, but because it is extrinsic evidence, meaning it was not properly introduced as evidence.

The same issue arose in the central case in my new book, The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates.

To write the book, I shadowed a North Carolina legal team for four and a half years as they fought to overturn the death sentence of a man named Bo Jones. The attorneys crisscrossed the back roads of North Carolina to track down and interview most of the jurors from the trial, two of whom chased them off their property. In the end, the attorneys found one woman who claimed that a Baptist minister on the jury had brought a Bible into the room and quoted passages from it.

In the end, this claim didn’t help Bo Jones. A federal appeals judge threw it out, saying his lawyers hadn’t proved that the Bible-quoting had influenced the jury’s verdict. But Jones’s attorneys had plenty of other arguments up their sleeves, while Oliver’s supporters seem to be putting most of their emphasis on the Bible argument.

It remains to be seen whether this will bewas not enough to spare his life.

Update: Prolific death penalty defense attorney David R. Dow (author of Autobiography of an Execution) on his client, Khristian Oliver.



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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Lethal Injection,Murder,Other Voices,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,Theft,USA

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30 thoughts on “2009: Khristian Oliver, Bible basher”

  1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Okay, okay. I try to say out (for the most part, lol!) of the anti-death penalty debate, as it’s sure to piss someone off. This time, however, I’ll make an exception:

    Mr. Oliver needs to die. That’s the bottom line. No one forced him to enter that home and commit murder. Just because some folks decided to act stupidly and use the Bible in a criminal court doesn’t mean Mr. Oliver should get some kind of break; something the judge recognized.

    No, Mr. Oliver needs to lay down and wait for the juice to start flowing up the arm.

  2. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Not that I need to say it, but make that sixth word “stay” rather than “say” and that’s all I have to SAY about it, LOL!

  3. Graeme Tychsen says:

    Those reading the Old Testament; are they Jewish; if they are to go to the Bible, and not Jewish, then the New Testament requirement of reflecting our Loving Father’s limitless and unqualified love, and unquestioned foregiveness, must always prevail. Did Jesus, strung out the way he was, representing unblemished righteousness, call for any one’s blood. Jesus came to save us ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do”, applies everhwerhe for all of us day in and day out; Heaven knows we people condemn ourselves enough, without our loving Father’s intervention. From the outside, US always just looks like its on a killing spree, in one form or another. Austria has not had the death penalty since the 1780s – what a beacon of light, and hasn’t fallen apart.

  4. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Hello Graeme–

    I hope you will agree that Austria was not a beacon of light during WW2? So let’s not start casting derision at countries, ’cause your country and Germany will lose every time, with the Japanese and the Russians right behind you.

    Also, the teachings of Jesus are great, but if nations operate by that standard (say, turning the other cheek) then the opposing nation will overwhelm them. As such, there is nothing immoral about executing the guilty; and Jesus did not condemn state-sanctioned executions either. He just extended a forgiving hand to one who called out to him while they were being crucified together.

    Peace!

  5. Graeme Tychsen says:

    Jesus did not sanction state executions; I do not allocate blame from country to country; Jesus was pointing out the hell of mankind generally and the way out of it – to pull out the ledger and not forgive means people just continue heading down the same old horror track; Germany annexed Austria, which was the same as being invaded by a very powerful nation – where was powrful and distant US coming to its aid then; and this site is about capital punishment, the point here being that people are looking for guidance from the Bible – well if you are going to do that get the guidance from the right part; so, stay on track.

  6. Fiz says:

    I don’t know if you know this, Graeme, but Kevin is a US minister. Don’t blame the UK or the US for no-one helping Austria – it welcomed Hitler in!

  7. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Graeme

    Let me say that I have been to your country twice (and twice to Germany) and I found the people to be very nice indeed. However. my comment about Austria was in response to your “slam” of the United States during your “killing spree” comment.
    Having said that, we can’t deny history, can we? True, Germany gobbled up Austria, and there were vast sections of your population who were more than willing for it to happen. Also, for as long as Hitler is remembered (and I bet that’s gonna be a long time!) everyone will know that it was your country which produced him. Need I say more? So the next time you would like to slam terrible America, just remember we played our part in killing Germans and Austrians so that the world could once again be free.

    Good day, sir.

  8. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Thank you, Fiz. I knew I could count on you, lol!

  9. Graeme Tychsen says:

    Kevin

    If guidance is sought from the Bible for justifying capital punishment, why wasn’t a reference from the New Testament given, in any of the cases of today’s entry? All references are Old Testament ones.

    Jesus’ execution was by capital punishment to show just how gross our behaviour, in which we all share, right down the ages,can really be. Horror sewn up in legality.

    And Jesus does not want mankind walking into situations where others are called upon to pay the ulimate sacrifice or are lamed so as to be as good as, along with the despairing wider families. I think the horror in Europe 1914 – 1945 explains why the European nations have been getting along since, for a continent whose heritage is the most violent; hostile; and cruel in history.

    Wishing you well, and Godspeed

    Graeme

  10. Patrick Bachmann says:

    Did the guarantee begin yet??

  11. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Thank you, Graeme, and Godspeed to you.

    Kevin

  12. SarahB. says:

    “Pastor Kevin” —
    It’s a shame, then, Paul didn’t lie down and wait for the juice to start flowing???? LOL???? Wow. And you’re a “minister”?

    Sorry, bud. If Paul, who persecuted and tortured Christians,
    can change, so can Kristian and others.

    You said, “Also, the teachings of Jesus are great, BUT if nations operate by that standard (say, turning the other cheek) then the opposing nation will overwhelm them.” (emphasis added)

    Did you know that the “But” word negates every word in front of it? Let me know where you minister, so I DON’T GO NEAR YOU.

  13. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Sarah B

    I am sorry that I must enlighten you, but I must: Yes, people can change, but killers rarely do. Besides, putting someone to death who has committed murder, is not, and has never been an immoral act. I’m sorry that you’re such a pacifist that normal, every day thinking has departed from you long ago. What you fail to understand is that many (not all) but many of the people on death row are hardened individuals, sociopaths who, given the chance, would gladly kill again if released (or escaped) and they have no intention of changing, ever!

    In a world such as you possess IN YOUR MIND, there would be nothing but chaos. It would be a world where evil nations would take over pacifist nations; that’s what your world would bring. Folks like you are so out of touch with reality that I’m amazed you can tie your shoes in the morning.

    Your world doesn’t exist, thank God!

    P.S. I’m retired from the ministry.

  14. DeSales Harrison says:

    Pastor Kevin,

    It is your belief that putting someone to death who has committed murder has never been an immoral act. It is my belief that sanctioning and performing execution is incompatible with Christianity and a great evil. So of course we do not agree. What chills me most deeply about your argument, however, is your conviction that you stand in a position of authority concerning “normal everyday thinking.” Furthermore, you base your judgment in part on claims about the “intentions” of people on death row. How, pray tell, do you know what those intentions are? Furthermore, you seem confident to describe a world that exists only “in the mind” of SarahB. Whence, sir, your certainty about the minds of others, even those whom you have not met? And by what road did you arrive at your belief that “folks like SarahB” and myself are so woefully out of touch with reality that shoe-tieing, by your lights, should be beyond us? In short, I would like to know, sir, from what greater authority you derive your convictions. Is it not possible that you could be wrong? Perhaps you believe it is not. But if it is possible that you could be wrong, and if perhaps a jury in texas, now or in the past, could be wrong, doesn’t your whole argument for the justice of your position crumble? It seems to me it does, on a purely judicial basis. Wholly beyond that, however, is Christ’s commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves, and his insistence that if human kind required sacrifice, he has already offered himself, on the cross, once and for all, for the redemption of the world. My prayer, sir, is that he has mercy on us all.

  15. Fiz says:

    Let’s hope you never have the need to extend forgiveness to anyone who happens to harm any of your family! You might find you feel different then. Anyway, it is not up to us to forgive whoever does such a thing but God and the victim. FYI I saw a programme about lifers and the Oklahama prison rodeo. One girl was truly penitent and another man, a lifer, spoke no word of pity for his victim and tried to skirt round the whole issue that he had actually murdered at all. I suggest you actually try to teach Christianity in prisons. All the Manson gang in jail became “true believers” – bar Charlie – and became very rich by reeling in people like you and even married and had kids in prison! Do you think that was fair to the Tate-Bianca victims and their families?

  16. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    DeSales:
    ,

    I will go over this point by point with you:

    First, I am NOT speaking to you from a position of authority. I’m retired from the ministry, and I’m speaking from the position of a private citizen.

    Secondly, I don’t care how someone twists the scriptures, you will not find anywhere where Jesus speaks against the use of executing the guilty by the state. However, it is clear that he is all forgiving and would like for everyone to come to him, including those on death row. But this does not mean he negates the law; and here I mean civil law.

    Concerning the intentions of murderers, or those on death row: Have you had a dealings with killers? I have.

    After 5 years of theological training, I can tell you that Christianity has to do with the spiritual rebirth of each person who come to Jesus for salvation. It has NOTHING to do with negating civil law, or the exercising thereof.

    Also, the teachings of Jesus pertain to the individual, and not the state. Again, if a country adopts the literal teachings of Jesus, they will not survive; but the individual, on the other hand, will flourish!

    Per my response to Sarah B: I know what’s in the mind of Sarah B, because she expressed herself rather well. She was a bit rude, but at least she was direct, and I like that.

    Cordially,
    KMS

  17. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    So true, Fiz!

  18. DeSales Harrison says:

    You are right, Fiz, I may feel differently; I expect I would. But I hope, and I pray, that I would not think differently than I do now. (And conversely i pray that if I in turn am murdered, my loved ones would not seek the judicial killing of the murderer.) Even if I did not feel forgiveness, I hope that I could play my part in interrupting what appears to me to be the self-perpetuating cycle of killing. Remorse may come in time. Forgiveness, even for members of the Tate family, or in this case, the Collins family, may come in time. Who are we to exclude that possibility? But the remorse of the perpetrator and the preference of the berieved is, ultimately, beside the point. This is an anguishing fact, but an important one; the courts cannot adjudicate states of mind. When the state gets in the business of meting out vengeance through killing, then the state has grown corrupt, because to do so is to claim a total authority over a life by excluding the possibility that the state may act in error. The fact that states have been the agents of revenge for millennia does not make the corruption any less real. By executing some of its convicts, the state colludes in vengefulness, rather than standing between the vengeful passions of citizens and the possibility of impersonal justice. Justice is never a possibility where innocent people can be executed by mistake. You say that forgiveness is up to God and the family, but I disagree. God is quite explicit on this point: vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, no? And does the Lord’s prayer not state that we are forgiven to the very extent that we can forgive others? It is my conviction that we as a nation can take this imperative much more seriously than we do.

  19. DeSales Harrison says:

    Dear Kevin,

    It would of course be convenient if we knew whether Sarah B agrees with your assessment that you know what is in her mind. For that matter, it would be useful to know whether the killers you speak of would agree as well. Were they not to, would you maintain that you know better than they do? I am not saying that you are speaking with ecclesiastical or pastoral authority; I am questioning the authority that can affirm that you, as a citizen, know all you need to know about what’s in the mind of another citizen.

    As for the authority of scripture on this matter, we interpret differently, and of course, divergent interpretation isn’t going to come to an end anytime soon. You appeal, however, to the distinct claims of civil law. I would ask you, on these grounds, whether you believe that civil law is incapable of acting unjustly. Should the church have nothing to say about the enslavement of Africans because the state, and indeed the bible itself, affirms the right to enslave? Should the church have nothing to say about the Nazi death camps because civil law authorized it? When you say that Christianity has NOTHING to do with civil law, I am wondering how many Christians, whether conservative, liberal, progressive, catholic, protestant, pentecostal, marxist or even fascist, would agree with you.

    You state that if the individual were to adopt the literal teaching of Jesus, the individual would flourish, while states, were they to adopt the same teaching would not survive. Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that this were true, is the necessity for the state to preserve itself a greater claim than the claim that human beings have their destiny with God, even though the pursuit of that destiny might involve the laying down of one’s own life? Surely, if God is our judge, God will judge how we vote or what cause we fight for just as he will judge how we treat the hungry, the naked, and the prisoner.

  20. Graeme Tychsen says:

    One capital punishment Jesus was at was the imminent stoning of a woman (and this still happens today), to which the Son of Our Loving Father, of all, simply and ever so eloquently posed the question, he who is without sin, cast the first stone. Any one familiar with the account knows all dropped away. The Old Testament is judgmental however the New Testament in which Our Loving Father is a man shows the conduct to be true to Our Loving Father, including those who as yet have not come to Him through the Son, who is the way, the truth and the life. It is no longer one of judgement and vengeance, but of those times when a person fails to love Our Father with all his heart above all else and to so love the whole of brotherhood and sisterhood (science now knows every person ever on the planet has come from one woman – even though our faith tells us this), without any qualification – people would come to Jesus for restoration and not once did he seek their worthiness – and when there is this failure is when for that time for the person the kingdom dies and death reigns. As part of that life – the only one there is – one of abundance and love – must come foregiveness, and when at any time this is not given, once more the life that comes from the healthy relationship with Our Loving Father is fractured.

    The Unheeded Jesus is covered in Matthew and goes against the grain, a away of beahvioud more familiar with the depiction of the behaviour of our loving in those words. However, the exclusive example of human conduct set by Our Loving Father is his son Jesus.

    Adam’s sin to our lasting agony until we childlike accept the gracious gift of Jesus burdens and weighs us down with moral questions / dilemmas none is ever comfortable with. No wonder Our Loving Father warned us not to eat of that fruit, and now through Jesus and pure love, we can at all times test our own conduct before Our Loving Father, telling us whether we are in life or death.

    On a secular point going back to civil regulation, this explains the term “commit” sucide; once seen as a punishable act, against the natural order and especially against the family,and loved ones who are always the real victims. In this vein I commend looking at why and how Jean Calas was executed in France in 1763, just days short of turning 64. And by no means an isolated incident. Poignant.

  21. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Well, DeSales, language is a wonderful thing, as I’m sure you know. By language, we convey our thoughts and feelings to others; and for most of humanity, we do it quite clearly: From the political deals struck by the heads of state, to two men getting into a brawl at a local bar. It’s how we get our point across in life. As such, Sarah B conveyed to me her extreme differences with my opinion (but wait, there’s more!) and she did so in a way as to be, well, mildly rude, and perhaps a little insulting. Now that does not bother me, but I point this out to let you know what her language meant to me. It was very clear.

    God understands when a country or an individual is committing evil (read Germany, say, during WW2) and HIS law is, of course, higher than any civil law. But a country under normal civil law, even apart from God’s law, establishes order and stability in a society, thereby creating a safe environment for the citizens, and that is (in my opinion) God’s will. Part of that will is keeping society safe from murderers, and the use of capital punishment goes hand in hand (or should!) with a society which desires to live within a system of laws where their are consequences (AND EXTREME CONSEQUENCES) to those who murder the innocent.

    Anyway, I’m sure we can never agree on the issue of the death penalty (or perhaps, many other issues) but I do wish you well, and if you ask any other questions, I will try my best to answer them.

  22. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Graeme–

    Forgiveness can only be granted to those who ask for it. God does not extend forgiveness to people who do not ask for it; neither will he allow anyone into Heaven who does not come to his son Jesus for salvation. Now, Jesus himself talked of the narrow road in life, and how few people find it. You are constantly telling about God’s love, and I hear nothing of the person’s responsibility to repent and change their evil ways. Yes, God will forgive, but there are qualifiers to it, my friend. It isn’t a free ride.

    Sometimes I think that folks like you, who talk of nothing else but “the Father’s love” know very little about God in the first place. Don’t forget that it was Jesus who said people shouldn’t be concerned by those who can only kill the body, but should (I’m paraphrasing here) be concerned about God who has the power to cast both soul and body into hell.

    Think about it!

  23. Fiz says:

    Kevin, I got to know you elsewhere and liked you as a person, and you are also my sort of Christian. That’s is a true internet miracle.

  24. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Thanks, Fiz! You know, I feel like I’ve stuck my head into a hornets nest, LOL!

  25. Graeme Tychsen says:

    Kevin

    Foregiveness by people to people is not based on request. Loving Father forgive us our debts, As we have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6: 12, 13; For if (“I”) forgive men their trespasses, (‘my”) heavenly Father also will forgive (“me”)(Matthew 6: 14, RSV – the wonderful poetry of King James updated slightly) – it is not for the benefit of the trespasser but for the divine liberation of the loving forgiver, resting in the arms of his Loving Father. Matthew: Jesus yoke is easy, burden is light.

    Forgiveness has to be given full stop, and this is the essence of the unqualified love, at the heart of the New Testament, of the ministry of Jesus, love. Look at the understated representation of power of Jesus; a person who could have called on unlimited supernatural power does not even do so to repel the abhorrent and cruel humiliation, before the actual crucifixion. I cannot be Our Loving Father, only reflect him by conducting myself true to the example of Jesus.

    Yes I was troubled by the individual / state dichotomy re: the scriptures; however, became a pacificist in my 50s in the last few years. The history of war shows mankind at his most out of control, without exception, causing suffering beyond comprehension, down the eons, to this day, explaining the European Treaty of Westphalia, after the horrendous 30 Years War, 1618 – 1648, including marauding mercenaries, running roughshod without opposition over the countryside of Germany; Holland and Sweden, of mayhem, established the idea of nation-state sovereignty to protect people within borders, but even that has not been enough: 20th Century onwards – Germany; Turkey;the Soviet Union; the Balkans; Argentina; Greece; Chile; Spain; Sri Lanka; Burma; Soviet Union; China; Uganda; Somalia; The Lebanon; Zimbabwe; South Africa – Mr Nelson Mandela, exceptional after watching 28 plus years pass behind bars is freed to become President and insists there be no recriminations. In the end – Forgive them for they know what they do: reverberates down the ages for all of us, without exception, in our daily conduct.

    Pacifism, a difficult decision given my natural bent; but there it is in the “Unheeded Christ”, the unmistakable verses of Matthew.

    I am not aware Jesus ever lifted a finger, t oeven suggest assualt, yet Jesus always reads as an immensely strong character.

    American Civil War: the men wounded in that probably suffered the most in history from combat; the firepower relative to protection; speed of transport; and medical development at the time, which led to terrible illnesses.

    For any one who has been involved in conflagration I do not regard any less then myself; but this is true for the whole brotherhood / sisterhood.

    I think of the WW1 – about declarations of war before official hostilities existed between UK and Germany, both itching to see who had supremacy with their new found miliatry might in which men time and time were ordered from trecnhes to be mowed down in hails of bullets, sacrificially, requiring the US to save and ensure an unstable Europe that Hitler lacerated.

    In the Pacific War your navy had control of the allied waging of war, and would insist in retaking every island back to Nippon, by strafing each island for twenty four hours and then land a combination of GI and Marines, who did not work well together, in any event, to be mowed down by the Japanese who were protected by tunnels, and this happened time and time again. It was a modern hi-tech version of the WW1 trenches.

    I pray that hornets’ nest feeling goes.

    God Bless

    Graeme

  26. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Graeme–

    You are both articulate and intelligent, and obviously well-read. Your knowledge of past conflicts; especially the American experience at war, is impressive indeed. I too am in my 50’s (54 to be exact) and I have always viewed history, especially the history of military conflict, as an important element to understanding ourselves. And it is not a pretty picture, as you well know. I was surprised to see you speak of the American Civil War, and you’re correct in your assessment of the horrendous wounds suffered in that war, and the egregious lack of the medical field to deal with it.

    My own family has been touched by war: My father served with the Marines in WW2, and his brother, a navy man aboard the USS Astoria, was killed during the battle of Savo Island on August 9, 1942. My dad’s uncle was in the U.S. Army, an infantryman, and was killed on December 10, 1944 in Germany.
    As such, it was clear to us kids, growing up and learning those things which happened to the family members we never got to know (or seeing the pain in my father’s whenever he was forced to discuss the wart)eyes , that the cost of freedom can be very high, indeed.

  27. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Well, I was making a correcting, and I must have slid over the submit button! I’ll now continue…

    …or seeing the pain in my father’s eyes whenever he was forced to discuss the war), that the cost of freedom can be very high, indeed.

    Anyway, I respect your choice of pacifism, but I know in my heart that it is a road I’ll never travel down. The stakes are too high in an unstable world, and used properly, using force (yes, violence) may be the only thing which stops evil in its tracks.

  28. Graeme Tychsen says:

    Kevin

    I do understand; and our societies should do much more for these people.

    I had uncles in WW2 – got along with them like a house on fire – Uncle Dave took shrapnel to the grave, from the Middle East and always jolly Uncle Wallace joined the airforce with his mates, the way to go he reckoned, and did some pretty spectacular stuff. Both modest.

    God Bless you

    Graeme

  29. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    And God bless you, Graeme!

  30. Kjartan says:

    I am wondering what the proper punishment for a jury, wrongfully recommending the death penalty, would be?
    What does the Bible say about that? Is it still an eye for an eye? Could the family of the wrongfully executed person expect all the jurors to face execution? At least the family would know that the jurors are guilty unlike their family member.

    The problem by using the Bible is that, in my opinion, you can’t start dismembering it by ones choosing. ie you can’t choose what passages to follow and which to not. The Bible is no compromise. If you choose to follow it literally in your conviction of murderers, then what do you do with passages like:

    “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.”

    Powerful stuff…

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