A North Carolina judge quoted Scripture that refers to the Lord’s 'vengeance' in sentencing three men to de facto life prison terms for a robbery that netted less than $3,000. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case Tuesday.
The US Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to hear an appeal by three young North Carolina men who claim a judge inserted his personal religious views into their case by sentencing them to de facto life prison terms for a robbery that netted less than $3,000.
The justices dismissed the appeal without comment.
What raised the judge’s ire at the sentencing was the fact that the three men chose as their target an ongoing Sunday service at the Ridgeview Presbyterian Church in Bakersville.
The men entered the church wearing ski masks, and they were armed with two guns and a roll of duct tape. Their loot included money, cellphones, keys, and other personal property taken from the worshipers. They even cleaned out that morning’s collection plate.
At some point, one of the guns discharged into the church’s floor. No one was injured.
The men were arrested in their car shortly after leaving the church. They admitted their crime and agreed to plead guilty to 11 counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon.
At sentencing, they apologized to the church members and the community.
Superior Court Judge James Baker was apparently unmoved. “You didn’t just steal money from people,” he told the three. “You took God’s money. You took the Lord’s money.”
The judge added: “There is Scripture that says, ‘Vengeance is mine saith the Lord,’ but every now and then I think the judicial system has to contribute what it can.”
Judge Baker sentenced each defendant to 53 to 71 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
The young men – Josiah Deyton; his brother, Andrew; and Jonathan Koniak – appealed all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court, to no avail. A federal judge and a federal appeals-court panel also rejected their claims.
“The judge ... expressed his beliefs that the boys had stolen God’s money – money that the judge believed was to be used to bring about his God’s kingdom on earth,” Hoang Lam, a lawyer with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, wrote in his brief urging the high court to take up the case.
“He let it be known that they offended [the judge’s] religious sensibility and that their action amounted to irreverence,” Mr. Lam said. “He allowed his own personal religious beliefs and his own feeling of victimization into his sentencing decision.”