Death row inmate’s attorneys called sentence ‘justifiable lynching’ in 1999 hearing

More than 23 years after a Black man was sentenced to death for the killings of three White youths in Texas, his new attorneys have revealed evidence that his past counsel and members of an all-White jury expressed a racist animus against him.  File Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Corrections

More than 23 years after a Black man was sentenced to death for the killings of three White youths in Texas, his new attorneys have revealed evidence that his past counsel and members of an all-White jury expressed a racist animus against him. File Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Corrections

Feb. 5 (UPI) — More than 23 years after a Black man was sentenced to death for the killings of three White youths in Texas, his attorneys have revealed evidence that his past counsel and members of an all-White jury were motivated by racism.

John Balentine was 28 years old when he entered an Amarillo, Texas, home where three white boys were sleeping and shot them to death with a .32-caliber pistol. He confessed to the 1998 killing and was sentenced to death in 1999.

Balentine’s attorneys Peter Walker and lead attorney Shawn Nolan submitted a petition to the Texas Court of Appeals to have the death sentence relieved due to evidence that it was influenced by a racial bias against him. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday.

One piece of evidence is a note passed between Balentine’s attorneys during his sentencing in 1999. One attorney passed a note that said, “Can you spell lynching?” The other attorney inserted the word “justifiable” before “lynching.

“Defense counsel had racist attitudes, referred to the sentencing proceedings as a ‘justifiable lynching,’ and denigrated Mr. Balentine,” the petition said.

The petition also alleges that the jury foreman, Dory England, pressured fellow jurors into a death penalty sentence with “bullying” tactics driven by his own racist attitudes. In interviews, jurors responded that they felt pressured by England, who admitted that he would not let the jury consider anything other than the death penalty.

Juro’s said England used a racial slur when referring to Black people and bragged about killing a Black man before, the petition said. He also reasoned that the jury was “chosen to take care of this problem,” implying God had given them this task.

England is also accused of failing to carry out his duties as foreman. In one instance, a juror wrote a note to the judge about their reservations over issuing the death penalty. England destroyed the note rather than passing it along to the judge as he was required to do, the defense was founded.

During jury selection, the only two potential Black judges were dismissed. Jurors were asked for their feelings about the OJ Simpson murder trial. The Black jurors and several others said they had doubts about Simpson’s guilt, but the Black jurors were the only ones who responded in this way that were dismissive, according to the filing.

“Prosecutor Coyle admitted that, though he provided the OJ Simpson query as reason to strike these two Black people, he did not strike any of the other white jurors who had similarly expressed doubt about OJ’s query as reason to strike these two Black people, he did not strike any of the other white judges who had similarly expressed doubt about OJ Simpson’s guilt,” the filing said.

Information about Balentine’s history was allegedly suppressed from the jury trial, including trauma from his upbringing related to poverty, violence and sexual abuse committed against him.

One juror, Steve Fulton, said he would not have been in favor of the death penalty had he known of Balentine’s past trauma. He also reported being fearful of retaliation from the families of the victims because of the racial tensions revolving around the case.

The events leading up to the killings of Mark Caylor, 17, Kai Brooke Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15, were racially motivated as well. Caylor had threatened to kill Balentine because Balentine was in an interracial relationship with his sister Misty Caylor, the document said.

A note was found at the scene, presumably written by Mark Caylor, in which he addresses his mother, informing her of his intention to kill Balentine. Caylor had a history of violence and was sent to a boot camp after shooting up a house. He acquired another firearm after he was released which he intended to use on Balentine.

Balentine’s defense does not dispute the facts of the case, including his guilt.

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