Frank Fernandez of The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned the death sentence of Anthony Farina, who was convicted of murdering a teenager in 1992, because the prosecutor at his trial, former state’s attorney John Tanner, used biblical references throughout the sentencing hearing.
The appeals court said Tanner went too far when questioning the Rev. James Davis, a prison pastor who had been called by defense attorney William Hathaway to testify about counseling Anthony Farina at prison.
Tanner drew heavily from the Bible during his questioning of Davis, “urging the implementation of God’s law,” the 11th Circuit ruling states.
“While elevating his own station as divinely-ordained authority, the prosecutor made clear that the death penalty was the sole acceptable punishment under divine law, noting how Christ himself refused to grant a felon forgiveness from the death penalty.”
Rather than focusing on Anthony Farina, Tanner tackled theology, the appeals court said.
“Indeed, the majority of the prosecutor’s questions to Rev. Davis on cross examination and re-cross examination did not concern Mr. Farina personally, but rather, focused on improper, theological matters such as the prosecutor’s role as a vehicle of divine retribution and the propriety of the death penalty,” according to the opinion.
The appeals court also found that Tanner essentially told prospective jurors during jury selection that “it is ‘perfectly legitimate’ as a seated juror, to use religious beliefs as a basis to reject the law.”
Tanner’s biblical references occurred during Anthony Farina’s second sentencing. The Florida Supreme Court had ordered a new sentencing for him because it ruled that a qualified juror had been improperly excluded from the trial jury…
Tanner also told jurors during the re-sentencing the following: “Jurors are obligated and expected, if they serve on a jury to follow (the judge’s instruction on the law) even if they don’t agree with the instructions. But you’re not required, or expected, to abandon deeply held religious, moral, and conscientious, or other beliefs.
“In other words, if the conflict is so great that you say, I would like to follow the Judge’s instructions, I want to be respectful, but on this issue I couldn’t follow that instruction. I couldn’t do this. That’s perfectly legitimate. There’s nothing wrong with it. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything improper or disrespecting the Court.”
When speaking to press following the 11th Circuit’s ruling, Tanner blamed the decision on “activist” federal judges rather than his own conduct:
“They are political appointees, because they are appointed in part because of their social political views and not necessarily their intellect,” Tanner said in a phone interview. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, that’s just a fact.”
“The conviction was years ago and the federal court system at the time of that trial probably would not have reversed the conviction but we have a kind of a new era in federal judicial activism,” Tanner said. “The federal court is the one that has banned prayers in the school and the federal court is the one that has taken down Christmas nativity scenes in public places and removed the Ten Commandments from courthouses.”
The Florida Attorney General’s office is seeking to appeal the 11th Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.