By David Tulis
The Holly Bobo slaying case produced a second indictment on April 29, this time against Jason Autry, a 39-year-old man accused by a special grand jury of first degree murder and especially aggravated kidnapping. The nursing student was seen being led away from her residence near Parsons, Tenn., halfway between Nashville and Memphis, in April 2011. A first defendant had been named earlier, Zachary Adams. Both men face trial in criminal court, and Miss Bobo’s body is missing.
Murder in American law is distinct from manslaughter because it is a deed of intent — the intent to take a human life unlawfully. On this point, and many others, the American legal system owes a debt of gratitude to the 10 commandments that summarize the law of God in the scriptures. The requirement is murder is for mens rea, or “guilty mind.”
Mens rea is “the state of mind that the prosecution, to secure a conviction, must prove that a defendant had when committing a crime; criminal intent or recklessness,” says Black’s Law Dictionary. Criminal intent, the mental element in the taking of a life such as Miss Bobo’s, or a guilty mind must be present for guilt to be proven.
Cities of refuge
An important record about this law is in Numbers 35, half of which I read today at family worship just after breakfast. In the chapter God tells Moses to reveal His decree about cities of refuge — where the manslayer may flee for protection from the avenger of blood, or the one from the victim’s family ordained to seek out and destroy the slayer. If the fugitive killed by accident, he may remain alive in the city of refuge. If he killed intentionally, his life is forfeit after trial, no matter where he is seized.
The cities were established to account for the tribal duty of the avenger of blood for retribution (justice being eye for eye, tooth for tooth, stripe for stripe — or equity). Six cities were ordained cities of refuge, and let the law blunt the tribal duty of retribution, given the possibility in any one case that the killing was an accident.
God in this record makes distinction between murder and manslaughter.
“ *** These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there. ‘But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he strikes him with a stone in the hand, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he strikes him with a wooden hand weapon, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If he pushes him out of hatred or, while lying in wait, hurls something at him so that he dies, or in enmity he strikes him with his hand so that he dies, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. Numbers 35:15-21. [Emphases added]
Notice how God’s law requires a murderer to be put to death. It is alleged in the Holly Bobo case that Jason Autry and Zachary Adams intended Miss Bobo’s death. The scriptures emphasizes the nature of what today we would call manslaughter (an unintentional killing). It is without evil intention.
“ ***’However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait, or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments. So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.” Numbers 35:22-25. [Emphases added]
The cities of refuge protected the man guilty of only manslaughter, who faces an inquest or trial. The “congregation” in our day is the jury, whose members represent the people and their peace and security, though the state has arrogated to itself to be the offended party, as cases are now styled State vs. Autry instead of The People of Tennessee vs. Autry. Indeed, the primary offended party in a murder is God, and prosecutors and states represent God’s interests in prosecuting lawless killings.
Standards of proof
The principles of justice that require conviction if the proof is beyond a reasonable doubt also comes from the great system of law from Christianity. The law in the same chapter requires plural witnesses: “one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty.” At trials today circumstantial evidence is amassed to make certain more than one witness is the basis of conviction.
God also makes clear that a murderer cannot in any way buy or ransom his life. “Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death” Numbers 35:30, 31.
That Tennessee and American courts routinely let men live despite their murders. They live on the taxpayer dime in prisons, and many are freed. Societies that fail to mete out justice are in rebellion against God’s law. Violation of these laws, including the refusal to execute those who kill with mens rea, pollutes a land or kingdom. “[F]or blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it” (v. 33b).
A reformation in the Christian church will eventually turn its attention to the neglect of these areas of justice and equity within the realm of the state.