A judge threw out a convicted killer's death sentence Friday, saying the jury improperly relied on the "eye for an eye" teachings of the Bible to reach its decision.
Robert Eliot Harlan (pictured, left) was ordered to return to Adams County District
Court to be resentenced in compliance with state law.
"If any case merits the death penalty, there cannot be serious
debate about this case being that case," Judge John J. Vigil
wrote. "The death penalty, however, must be imposed in a
The judge said, "biblical code has no place in a constitutional
death penalty proceeding."
Harlan was convicted in 1995 of kidnapping, raping and murdering
Rhonda Maloney, 25. On Feb. 12, 1994, Maloney was heading home from here job as a cocktail waitress, when her car broke down in a snowstorm. Harlan stopped and raped her. Maloney managed to escape after two hours and flagged down a passing motorist who tried to drive her to safety.
Harlan chased the two in his car and repeatedly shot into the car, wounding the good Samaritan, Jaquie Creazzo, 32. Creazzo was permanently paralyzed as a result of a bullet that severed her spine.
Maloney's body was found a week later under a bridge in Adams County. She had been shot in the head.
Harlan attorney Kathleen Lord had argued on appeal that using
religious works during deliberations is improper because they are
not Colorado law.
Prosecutors argued that the use of biblical passages could not
have influenced the verdict.
Neither Lord nor Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant
immediately returned a call seeking comment.
In his ruling, Vigil noted that jurors were exposed to Bibles
and Bible passages on punishment for murder while they were
sequestered during deliberations.
"It was for the purpose of guiding and directing certain jurors
to a particular verdict," he said.
Bibles and notes with biblical passages on punishment were read
and discussed among the jurors in the deliberation room prior to a
verdict being reached, Vigil said.
"The jurors' reliance on the specific biblical passages cannot
be considered benign," he wrote. He referred to juror Lana
Eaton-Ochoa who read and wrote down the citation to Romans 13:1,
which says "let every soul be subject to the governing authorities
for there is no authority except from God."
"This and other passages the jurors considered do more than
simply encourage jurors to follow the instructions of the court.
The passages mandate that death be the penalty for murder," he
Eaton-Ochoa testified that she reads the Bible for comfort and
Vigil criticized court officials for failing to take steps to
insure jurors were not exposed to outside influences.
"The jury supervision performed in this case was extremely
negligent and appallingly lax," he wrote.
Defense attorney Kathleen Lord expressed satisfaction with the
"The eye for an eye. That's just not the law in Colorado or in
any state," Lord said. "Bible passages that were used by the jury
in this case were Bible passages contradictory to Colorado law."
Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant was out of the office Friday, but his top deputy issued a statement on the ruling.
"We respectfully disagree with the courts decision. We will appeal. We will ask an appellate court to reinstate the death sentence. We believe the jury of 1995 decision to impose the death sentence was just, proper, and legal. We felt this just, proper, and legal sentence should be carried out," said Steve Bernard, Grant's assistant D.A.