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
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. …