satanist: Jury prejudiced by faith evidence
convicted murderer seeks life term instead of death penalty
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 27year-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
Continued from A 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. “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.