execution racial bias Texas Court of Criminal Appeals U.S. Supreme Court

State of Texas executes John Balentine

On Wednesday, February 8, 2023, the State of Texas executed John Balentine. His case raised many troubling issues about the racism and ineffective legal representation that pervades the Texas death penalty system, particularly at the trial level. Both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to provide a substantive judicial review of evidence of racial bias among the all-white jurors who sentenced him to death more than two decades ago. His attorneys also harbored racial animus towards Balentine and did virtually nothing to gather information about his childhood and background, which could have impacted the jury’s deliberations. This was a travesty of justice.

Balentine was the third person executed by the State of Texas this year and the sixth nationwide. Potter County, where he was convicted, accounts for a dozen executions in Texas.

Of the 581 executions carried out by the State of Texas since 1982, 114 involved Black people convicted of killing white victims. Only six have involved white people convicted of killing Black victims.

Original post from February 8, 2023 at 12:00 PM CT
There have been numerous developments in this case over the past ten days. On February 6, 2023, Balentine filed a response to the State’s attempt to reinstate his execution date and death warrant, which were recalled on January 31 by a state district judge because counsel had not been properly notified that the State had scheduled an execution date for their client. On February 1, the Honorable Steve Denny, Judge of the 320th District Court in Potter County, reaffirmed his order and denied the State’s Motion for Reconsideration. On Friday, the State asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to vacate the district court order and reinstate Balentine’s February 8 execution date.

This morning, less than eight hours before the execution is set to take place, the Texas CCA reinstated the execution order and warrant.

All of this came on top of Balentine’s application for Permission to File a Successive Post-Conviction Relief Motion and Motion for Stay of Execution, which were filed in the 320th Judicial District Court in Potter County and with the Texas CCA, pointing to newly discovered evidence that racial bias and other serious misconduct affected the jury’s deliberations in his case. According to those filings, this evidence, including declarations from jurors and others, shows that the jury foreperson harbored longstanding and virulent racist views. He did not like Black people, used the “n” word regularly, and believed inter-racial relationships – one of which was implicated in Mr. Balentine’s case – were wrong. 

It is clear from their trial notes that his attorneys also harbored racial animus towards Balentine, who was sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Outrageously, the attorneys wrote a note to each other that included the words “justifiable lynching” while actively representing him during the penalty phase.  

This morning, the CCA also dismissed Balentine’s subsequent writ application pointing to newly discovered evidence that racial bias and other serious misconduct affected the jury’s deliberations in his case and denied Balentine’s motion for a stay of execution. 

Balentine now is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, arguing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was wrong to not address the merits of his underlying claim of racial bias. Read the press release from his attorney.

Balentine has also asked Governor Greg Abbott to grant a temporary reprieve to stop tonight’s execution. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had halted clemency proceedings after Balentine’s execution warrant was withdrawn last week and has never resolved his request for clemency.

Balentine, a Black man, has spent more than two decades on death row. He was convicted of killing three white teenagers—Mark Caylor, Kai Brooke Geyer, and Steven Brady Watson—in Amarillo in 1998 after a dispute with one of the victims, who had threatened to kill him on prior occasions, escalated. 

Balentine received abysmal representation from his trial attorneys—one of whom had not represented a capital defendant in twenty-two years while the other was a former District Attorney—who did virtually nothing to gather information about their client’s childhood and background. Consequently, the jury did not hear about Balentine’s history as the victim of sexual and physical abuse, his childhood experiences of abject poverty, neglect, and domestic violence, or his history of learning impairments and life-long brain damage.