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Rolled Oaths

Claim:   Daughter of murder victims decries the removal of "So help me God" from the oath trial witnesses are sworn by.

MIXTURE

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, December 2004]

This is by a daughter of a murdered couple in Raytown who had a Bible and Bookstore on 63rd street.

Just one more example:

When I had to testify at the murder trial of my parents a week ago, I was asked to raise my right hand. The bailiff started out "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"

I stood there and waited but she said nothing. She said "Do you?" I was so stunned I blurted out "What happened to "so help me God'?" She came back with "Do you?" I replied yes, but I was perplexed. Then the judge said "you can say that if you want to." I stopped, raised my right hand, and finished with "So help me God!" I told my son and daughter that when it came time for them to testify, they should do the same. It's no wonder we have so many problems in this country. If I'd had my wits about me I'd have told them that taking God out of the courtroom is only going to result in more criminals and murderers like him being in there! I don't know what can be done about it, but it's time we stepped up and did something.
 

[Collected via e-mail, January 2010]

Just like Dalton McGuinty wanting to keep the 'Lord's Prayer' out of The Ontario Legislature, for the same reasons. What a gutless wonder he has turned out to be.

This is by a daughter of a murdered couple in TORONTO who had a Bible and Bookstore on Bloor Street.

When I had to testify at the murder trial of my parents a week ago, I was asked to raise my right hand. The bailiff started out, 'Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the truth?

I stood there and waited but she said nothing more. She said, 'Do you?' I was so stunned I blurted out, 'What happened to 'so help me God?' She came back with 'Do you?' I replied yes, but I was perplexed. Then the judge said, 'You can say that if you want to.' I stopped, raised my right hand and finished with 'so help me God!' I told my son and daughter that when it came time for them to testify, They should do the same. It's no wonder we have so many problems in this country. If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have told them that taking God out of the courtroom is only going to result in more Criminals and murderers like him being in there. I don't know what can be done about it, but it's time we stepped up and did something.

CBC this morning had a poll on this question. They had the highest number of responses that they have ever had for one of their polls and the percentage was the same as this: 86% to keep the words; 14% against. That is a pretty commanding public response. I was asked to Send this on if I agreed or delete if I didn't. Now it is your turn. It is said that 85% of CANADIANS believe in God. Why don't we just tell the 14% to sit down and SHUT UP!

If you agree, pass it on. If not, you know where that friendly little ol' delete button is. Now, decide whether to delete or pass it on.

 

Variations:   A January 2010 Canadianized version of the "So help me God" e-mail (quoted as the second example above) concluded with the "Do you believe in God?" poll which was originally part of the mailing.

Origins:   Often Swearing an oath in court titled "Agree or Delete" or "In God We Trust," this story has been circulating on the Internet since December 2004. It is an odd piece to classify in that the wrong murder has been attached to someone else's story.

Raytown, Missouri, has a population of 30,000 and lies about 8 miles southeast of Kansas City and 7 miles southwest of Independence. On 20 October 2004, an elderly couple who ran a Christian bookstore in that city was discovered murdered in their shop. Dead were John Caylor (79) and his wife Mildred Caylor (76). The couple had their throats cut by a robber who likely made off with less than $100, which was typically all that was carried in the cash drawer that was found empty. The victims had been married for 54 years and had run the store for 43 years. They were described by their friends as "old-time" Southern Baptists who focused on spreading the gospel and sometimes held tent revivals in their parking lot. One of their sons told how the pair would load up their van with musical instruments and visit nursing homes to perform. Their lives were about doing good, loving one another, and loving God.

On 4 November 2004, Kellen C. McKinney (27) was charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the deaths of the Caylors. His DNA being found on a bloodstained bag left near the cash register was the evidence that broke the case. When run through a DNA database, the sample matched McKinney, whose DNA was on file by virtue of his having served a prison sentence in Kansas.

However, news accounts referred to the Caylors as having three sons but made no mention of any daughter. Moreover, although there had been an arrest in the case, at the time this piece was circulating the suspect had yet to be tried. All of this made the linking of this e-mail with the Caylor murders questionable.

In fact, this item was part of an e-mail written by the daughter of different murder victims, Clifford Moody (79) and his wife Benice Moody (74), who were stabbed to death in their home in the Four Corners area Polk County, Florida, in 1996:
The Moodys were found dead a little after 1 p.m. on December 31, 1996. Clifford was found lying on his back in the dining room area of their trailer. His underwear and pants had been pulled down to below his knees. His eyeglasses lay approximately two feet from his head. Dr. Alexander Melamud, the medical examiner, testified that Clifford received a total of eight stab wounds, causing more internal than external bleeding, and that he died as a result of these stab wounds close in time to his wife's death.

Bernice was found in the same trailer with multiple stab wounds. She lay dead on a bed in the back of the trailer and was nude except for one sock. A nightgown and female underwear with a knot tied in it lay on the floor next to the bed. Additionally, pieces of a porcelain toilet tank lid were found underneath her. Dr. Melamud testified that Bernice incurred a total of fifty-six cut or stab wounds, many of which on her right arm he opined to be defensive. Her jugular vein had been slit.
Thomas Woodel was arrested for the killings and charged with two counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and armed burglary; a jury convicted him on all four counts, and Woodel was sentenced to death in January 1999. His death sentence was upheld on appeal in 2005, and it was during that appeals process that the Moodys' daughter gave testimony referenced in the e-mail quoted above.

As to the question of whether courts still ask trial witnesses to swear they will tell the truth with an oath ending in the words "So help me God," there is no definitive answer — the U.S. legal system encompasses courts of various levels (from municipal city and county courts to state and federal courts), all of which may have differing procedural practices for the swearing-in of witnesses. Many courts have dropped the once common practice of having a witness place his left hand upon a Bible while raising his right hand and swearing an oath to tell the truth; various courts have either dropped or retained the practice of prompting the witness to recite an oath to tell the truth "so help me God." In most cases, courts have long since allowed witnesses who object to swearing an oath to God to simply affirm that they promise to tell the truth.

Last updated:   16 October 2010

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Sources:

    Associated Press.   "Polk County Man Again Gets Death in Slaying of Illinois Couple."
    The St. Augustine Record.   3 July 2005.

    Associated Press.   "Kansas Man Charged in Death of Christian Bookstore Owners."
    4 November 2004.

    Associated Press.   "Son Pleads for Help Finding Parents' Killer."
    24 October 2004.

    Associated Press.   "No Suspects in Christian Bookstore Double Murders."
    22 October 2004.

    Associated Press.   "Two Found Dead in Raytown Christian Book Store."
    4 November 2004.

    United Press International.   "Murderer Sentenced to Death."
    27 January 1999.