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Wednesday, February 27, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bible verses barred in Cruz sentencing

Seattle Times staff reporter

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To avoid what he called "dueling Bibles" in the penalty phase of the Kevin Cruz trial, King County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler has ruled that attorneys must avoid specific biblical references during their arguments.

Cruz faces the death penalty or life in prison for fatally shooting Russell Brisendine and Peter Giles and wounding two others at the Northlake Shipyard on Nov. 3, 1999.

The same jury that convicted Cruz two weeks ago of aggravated first-degree murder and attempted murder will decide his sentence.

In the trial's penalty phase, which starts today, attorneys will be guided by parameters Kessler set yesterday, including a request by Senior Deputy Prosecutors Tim Bradshaw and Steve Fogg that defense attorneys avoid biblical debates, contrasting the Old Testament's "eye for an eye" philosophy against the New Testament's doctrine of "mercy."

"We believe in the separation of church and state and don't think it's appropriate," Bradshaw said.

The issue came up when defense attorney Tony Savage told the court that in pretrial questionnaires, the majority of jurors acknowledged they believe in the eye-for-an-eye concept of punishment.

Savage asked for permission to use New Testament references, emphasizing mercy, to help sway jurors. Kessler said Savage, one of Cruz's three attorneys, could still "craft an argument" based on the "philosophy of mercy vs. revenge" but needed to not have references to biblical passages.

Kessler said he, too, noticed that in the questionnaires "quite a number of the jurors volunteered they had a personal struggle between Old and New Testament philosophy."

Yesterday, Kessler also limited the number of family members who will testify during the penalty phase.

Brisendine's widow, Naomi, and his brother, Steve, are likely to take the stand today, which would have been Brisendine's birthday. Kessler ruled that Giles' relatives will not be able to testify how difficult it was to replace him at the shipyard.

Kessler said he wanted to avoid weighing the value of Giles' life as shipyard office manager against Cruz's life as a laborer during the four months he worked at the shipyard before he was fired. Kessler said such class concerns could unfairly prejudice the jury.

Prosecutors say Cruz shot Brisendine and Giles, and Patrick Ming and Jaromir Mir, because he was angry that the shipyard's insurance company initially refused to pay for an injury he said he suffered on the job.

While Bradshaw and Fogg will argue that there are aggravating factors to warrant executing Cruz , defense attorneys will argue there are mitigating factors to spare his life, including an "extreme mental condition."

Defense attorney Eric Lindell said a psychiatrist had found Cruz to be a chronic paranoid schizophrenic.

"We're confident in the penalty phase that Mr. Cruz's life will be spared by any reasonable jury," Lindell said.

Bradshaw said prosecutors believe Cruz does have a "mental disturbance," but they will argue it is not a significant reason to warrant leniency in light of the "two coldblooded murders."

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com.

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