Outrage and disappointment were the reactions of one legislator in response to the decision by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the death penalty in the Trooper Nikky Joe Green murder trial.
State Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, blasted the Court’s decision to reverse the imposition of the death penalty for Green’s killer, Ricky Ray Malone, in part because Green’s widow referenced God and the Bible.
“The Court of Criminal Appeals has broken loose like a liberal cannon on the deck of Oklahoma’s system of justice,” said Nichols, the co-chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety. “This latest opinion blows a gaping hole in the heart of Oklahoma’s conservative, but fair, courts of law and order.”
Citing specific statements by Green’s widow in which she referenced God and the Bible, three of the five justices on the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that “invocation of a religious belief and obligation in the context of a capital sentencing recommendation is totally inappropriate.”
“I thought I was reading an opinion written in some bizarre world where Ted Kennedy was running our courts,” Nichols said. “Instead, I was reading an opinion that the majority of our justices wrote while sitting on Oklahoma’s highest court for criminal appeals.”
The Court concluded that, “while Malone might have had only a slim chance of avoiding a death sentence in his original trial, the religious and duty-based plea of the victim’s wife that Malone be shown ‘no mercy’ squelched whatever slim chance he had.”
“I can’t believe that the majority opinion actually reversed a death penalty in part because the widow of a murdered Oklahoma State Trooper spoke about God and the Bible,” Nichols said, “Do these justices expect her to sit there void of any emotion in some attempt not to offend the murderer of her husband and one of Oklahoma’s finest Troopers?”
Two of the Justices disagreed with the majority of the Court’s decision. In his dissenting opinion, Presiding Judge Gary Lumpkin stated that he “found nothing inappropriate about references in victim impact evidence to God and the Bible. It seems as though courts have become overly phobic of any references to God or the Bible.”
“The Court of Criminal Appeals effectively turned to the widow of Trooper Green and punished her for invoking God’s name and referencing the Bible,” Nichols said. “Now the Court orders her to relive the nightmare of another sentencing stage, but this time – no God, no Bible and no tears.”
Nichols believes that the Court’s ruling to ban religious invocations in victim impact statements was unnecessary and over-reaching.
“The Court went out of its way to unnecessarily consider this non-issue of whether to ban God and the Bible from victim impact statements,” Nichols said. “This is another case of judicial activism running amuck.”
Nichols also believes that the Court’s language proscribing religious invocations will create a chilling effect where victims will not be allowed to reference God, and he also fears “the Court has created a new basis for over turning death penalties.”
“As I recall there was one other time a person related to this case cried out and invoked God’s name,” Nichols said. “It was Trooper Green, while he pled for his life and for his children, just before this murderer shot him dead.”