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A page from the gospel of Matthew in the New Testament.

Is it O.K. to Quote Scripture When the Death Penalty Is at Stake?

Some judges say yes, some say no. Care to second guess?

Brandon Astor Jones, who is scheduled to be executed in Georgia on Tuesday, was sentenced to death twice. His first death sentence was overturned for an unlikely reason: a Bible had been allowed into the jury room, and an appeals judge thought jurors might have let biblical law trump the Constitution. The second time Jones was sentenced, in 1997, no Bible was involved.

But the role of the Bible in death penalty cases has hardly been settled. The decision to send someone to execution has unmistakably theological connotations, so defense attorneys push jurors to exercise New Testament mercy, while prosecutors favor Old Testament retribution. When two Cornell law professors surveyed dozens of such cases in 2000, they found that judges seldom agreed on whether these quotes were permissible, leading to a “hodge-podge of outcomes.”

Here are a handful of death penalty cases where Biblical quotes were used. Can you guess whether the judges approved?

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