U.S. Supreme Court Stays Execution of John Balentine

Yesterday, August 22, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay to John Balentine just one hour before his execution was scheduled to take place.  This is the third last-minute reprieve Balentine has received in recent years.

Balentine was sentenced to death for the 1998 murders of his ex-girlfriend’s brother, Mark Caylor, Jr., 17, and two other boys, Kai Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15, in Amarillo. Last year, on the day of his scheduled execution (June 15, 2011), he received a last-minute reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court stopped the execution to review a petition from Balentine’s lawyer that contended his legal representation at trial and in the early stages of his appeal was deficient; the Justices later rejected his appeal.

These same issues appear to be the basis of Balentine’s latest appeal.  According to the Associated Press (“Texas inmate set to die gets last-hour reprieve,” August 22, 2012), “The high court said in a one-paragraph ruling Wednesday that it was giving the reprieve so it could consider Balentine’s petition for a review.”   Balentine’s lawyer, Lydia Brandt, “contends that a recent court ruling in an Arizona death penalty case should open the door for justices to stop Balentine’s execution and allow for a review of his case.”

That ruling, Martinez vs. Ryan, provides that if a state habeas corpus lawyer provides ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to investigate and raise a claim that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, the federal courts in federal habeas proceedings can now hear the claim that trial counsel was ineffective. To date, no Texas inmate facing execution has received relief under the Martinez decision.

Balentine is the fifth Texas death row inmate to receive a stay of execution this year; the execution date for a sixth inmate was withdrawn.  Nine additional executions are scheduled to take place in Texas in the remainder of 2012.

Read more about the stay of execution in the Houston Chronicle.