This is one that I don't want to editorialize on at all...Which is unusual, for me...
The link is to statesman.com, dated July 6th 2010, the writer's name is Chuck Lindell.
Irving Davis, convicted of raping and killing a 15-year-old El Paso girl, has asked a Texas appeals court to throw out his death sentence,
arguing that jurors should not have been told about his new religion — Satanism.
The revelation, defense lawyers argue, violated Davis' free exercise of religion and improperly prejudiced jurors against the 27-year-old inmate.
Prosecutors counter that allegiance to the Church of Satan was relevant information for jurors, who had to determine whether Davis should be put to
death as a continuing threat to society.
Davis' arguments sent two Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges down rhetorical paths that were more theological than legal — part of a generally
chilly reception to the inmate's claims during oral arguments in April.
"I mean, come on, boil it all down, the Church of Satan?" Judge Michael Keasler said. "You've got to be kidding me as to how that's good, because
Satan himself, at least as far as Christian doctrine is concerned, is the epitome of what evil is. If somebody chooses to align themselves with
something like that, it certainly would seem relevant."
Musing aloud, Judge Lawrence Meyers asked if Satanism should be considered a religion at all, because religions revolve around worshipping a higher
power. "Satan's not an almighty being," Meyers said.
But Ruben Morales, Davis' lawyer, argued that introducing Satanism in court was an improper attempt to criminalize beliefs that society finds
offensive or disagreeable.
"The state's attempt to place (Davis) in a bad light with the jury was nothing less than a 'witch hunt.' This is precisely the risk that society
runs when it attempts to distinguish between good and bad religions," he said in legal briefs.
The court has not yet ruled on Davis' petition, which seeks a new sentencing trial in hopes of converting his death sentence into a life term.
Davis' latest appeal arose after the court threw out his first death sentence in 2007 because the trial judge mistakenly allowed only expert
witnesses — and not Davis' family and friends — to testify about whether they considered the defendant a continuing danger.
While preparing for the new penalty phase trial, prosecutors learned Davis listed his new religion as Satanism after arriving on death row.
Jurors were shown, over defense objections, Davis' drawings depicting satanic symbols, books removed from his cell that included "The Satanic
Bible" and a pentagram tattoo on his chest. Prosecutors also introduced a grievance form that showed Davis complaining about being denied a gong,
candles, chalice, black robes, a vial of blood and other items he said were needed to practice his religion.
Prosecutor Lily Stroud said the evidence was meant to show that Davis had chosen to affiliate with an organization that condones and encourages human
sacrifice and other illegal acts.
"I don't believe that we put on the evidence, necessarily, to say: 'Well, Satanism is evil, just an evil religion, he's evil, and so you should
just put him to death," Stroud said. "The defense had been trying to give implication that while he was on death row he was nothing but a
But defense lawyer Morales said jurors, who again sentenced Davis to die, were improperly exposed to information designed to inflame their passions
against Davis. The infraction was made worse, he said, because it violated the First Amendment's protection of religious expression.
"The great thing about our country is that we are supposed to have the ability to choose our religion and not be persecuted for it," Morales told
the court's nine judges.
"But who's persecuting him?" Keasler asked. "All they're doing is bringing evidence."
"They are bringing evidence that is not viewed in a neutral way," Morales responded.
Meyers joined in by noting that the First Amendment protects the free practice of religion, and "nobody is denying his right to practice."
"How can you say you're protected (in) practicing your religion ," Morales said, "if someone can turn around and say, 'OK, because you practice
this religion, we're going to use that as a reason to kill you'?"
Morales also argued that the information was irrelevant because Davis was not a Satanist when Melissa Medina, 15, was killed and never committed a
crime or violent act in Satan's name.
Stroud, an El Paso County assistant district attorney, countered that evidence must be relevant to an issue at trial. In this case, jurors had to find
that Davis posed a continuing threat to society before they could assess the death penalty — his "character obviously being relevant to that,"
Stroud said. "All we had to show was he was a member in this particular organization that participated in violent and illegal activities."
Even if the Satanism evidence proves to be inappropriate, Stroud argued, judges should affirm the death sentence because jurors had other reasons to
find Davis a future danger, including the brutality of the crime. Davis confessed to killing Medina in 2001 while walking her home from a party,
beating her to death before cutting off her fingertips after attempts to sever her hands failed.
Several judges noted that, based on the principle that religion is a choice reflecting a person's values and principles, lawyers can strike
prospective jurors from the panel because of their beliefs.
Likewise, prosecutors may argue that defendants who choose to join a violent gang are dangerous — and affiliating with the Church of Satan is no
different, Stroud argued. "This was more about his choice of who to affiliate with as opposed to, you know, the moral, reprehensible, abstract
beliefs that he might have," she said.
According to religion experts, Satanism is practiced by a small group that ranges from deranged loners — who blame or claim satanic influence for
their crimes — to members of organized churches or groups . Belief systems vary, even among organized practitioners, but most self-described
Satanists tend to be humanists who view Satan as a natural or magical force, while others see Satan as a deity in opposition to the Christian God,
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller noted that the writings of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey seem to espouse human sacrifice or murder, such as this
advice from the "Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth": "If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him."
"What is unreasonable about assuming someone joins a religious organization because he holds beliefs in common with that religion?" Keller asked.
Morales raised two points. First, he said, the prosecution expert, a community college criminologist, incorrectly applied a literal interpretation to
LaVey's writings. The defense expert, the founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, testified that Church of Satan
members engage in symbolic rituals, while actual violence and sacrifice of people or animals is prohibited, Morales said.
Second, prosecutors never proved, or even tried to prove, that Davis believed in human sacrifice or any unsavory practices ascribed to Satanism, he
Because most people pick and choose which religious tenets to follow, prosecutors should have to prove which beliefs a defendant adheres to before
introducing religion into the courtroom, Morales said.
"If his religious preference was Satanism and he did believe in human sacrifice, then could that be used against him?" Keller asked.
"Then you would have a different situation," he said.
Please visit the link provided for the complete story.