Execution suddenly halted
POSTED: Thursday, June 16, 2011 - 2:33am
UPDATED: Thursday, June 16, 2011 - 4:43am
HUNTSVILLE, Texas —
Condemned prisoner John Balentine won a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, about an hour before he could have been taken to the Texas death chamber for killing three teenagers at a home in Amarillo more than 13 years ago.
The high court said it stopped the lethal injection to review a petition from Balentine’s lawyer that contended his legal help at trial and in early stages of his appeal was deficient. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused a similar appeal and Balentine’s attorney, Lydia Brandt, wanted the Supreme Court to look at that refusal.
Last week, the high court agreed to review an Arizona case about whether a convicted offender is entitled to competent legal help in the early stages of an appeal, and Brandt cited that case in arguments to the justices. Another appeal for Balentine to the Supreme Court was turned down on Monday.
Balentine, 42, was condemned for the triple slaying that was the culmination of a feud he had with one of the victims.
He would have been the fifth inmate executed this year in Texas. Another execution is set for Thursday evening.
“I am happy and relieved,” Balentine told Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark from a small holding cell a few steps from the death chamber. He already had eaten a final meal and was speaking with relatives on the phone when he received word of the reprieve.
He immediately was returned to death row, at another prison about 45 miles east of Huntsville.
Balentine, from Newport, Ark., already had a prison history in his home state when he was pulled over for a traffic violation in Houston. Police found he was wanted for the slayings six months earlier of Mark Caylor Jr., 17; Kai Brooke Geyer, 15; and Steven Watson, also 15. Caylor was the brother of Balentine’s former girlfriend.
Two years ago, Balentine got within a day of execution before an appeals court halted the punishment.
In a tape-recorded confession to police played at his 1999 trial, Balentine said he learned Caylor was looking to kill him because he had “jumped on his sister,” so he slipped into the house where he once lived with Caylor and shot all three teens in the head.
“I think he killed those guys because he was convinced they were going to kill him,” one of his trial lawyers, Randy Sherrod, said.
On Thursday, condemned inmate Lee Andrew Taylor, 32, is scheduled to die for the fatal stabbing of fellow prisoner Donta Green in 1999. Taylor, who insisted the killing was in self-defense, was already serving a life sentence at the time for the slaying of a 79-year-old Houston-area man, John Hampton, during a home break-in.