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 judges 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 mornings collection plate.
At some point, one of the guns discharged into the churchs 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 didnt just steal money from people, he told the three. You took Gods money. You took the Lords 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 Gods money money that the judge believed was to be used to bring about his Gods 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 judges] 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.
The lawyer added: He sentenced these boys as harshly as he did because they chose to rob a church, rather than a restaurant, a bank, or some other secular entity. …