Thursday, October 9, 2003

Ruling based on religion tossed

Rape sentencing sent to new judge

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Religious beliefs cannot influence a judge's decision when sentencing people, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Arthur Spiegel threw out convicted rapist James Arnett's 51-year prison sentence and ordered that Arnett be sentenced again by a different judge.

In his ruling, Spiegel said Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Melba Marsh violated Arnett's right to due process when she quoted a Bible verse during Arnett's sentencing in 1998.

"The due process clause requires that a sentence be based on objective, legal standards established by statute, as opposed to personal or religious standards that have not been established or sanctioned by our democratic process and that people in this country have never been compelled to follow or accept," Spiegel wrote in the decision, quoting a magistrate's report on the case.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office plans to appeal the decision to the Sixth District Court of Appeals.

The Bible quote dates to January of 1998 when Marsh sentenced Arnett, 38, for repeatedly raping the 8-year-old daughter of his fiancee.

At the sentencing, Marsh told Arnett that she struggled with his case because of the seriousness of the offense and because Arnett himself had been molested as a child.

At one point, she cited Matthew 18:5-6, a passage she thought was relevant to the case: "And whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it would be better for him that millstones were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

Wednesday's ruling is the second time the sentence has been overturned.

The First District Court of Appeals threw out the sentence, but the Ohio Supreme Court reversed that decision. Arnett and his attorney, Charles Bartlett Jr., then appealed in federal court.

"None of us condone what happened to the child, but the sentence was entirely inappropriate," Bartlett said. Marsh declined to comment.

Spiegel ordered that a new sentence be imposed within 90 days.


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