sa­tanist: Jury prej­u­diced by faith ev­i­dence

con­victed mur­derer seeks life term in­stead of death penalty

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By 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 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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.