The Supreme Court stayed John Balentine’s execution on Wednesday, giving the man more time to prove that his trial lawyer was ineffective.
It was the Texas death row prisoner’s third stay of execution, reports Reuters. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection just one hour later.
The question in John Balentine's case is not one of guilt or innocence.
In January 1998, Balentine entered his ex-girlfriend's home and shot her brother, Mark Caylor, Jr., 17, and two others, Kai Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15, while they were sleeping, reports Reuters. All three teens were shot in the head with a .32 automatic pistol.
Balentine confessed to the murders.
A Potter County jury found Balentine guilty of capital murder, and recommended capital punishment. Balentine argues now that his lawyer could have presented mitigating evidence, such as emotional problems and a difficult upbringing, that could have led to a life sentence, reports Reuters.
SCOTUSblog notes that Balentine's case is the first to reach the Court to test whether and how the Supreme Court's Martinez v. Ryan decision will be applied to capital cases, and whether it applies at all to capital cases in Texas. (In Martinez, the Court held that, when ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims must be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding under state law, a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing those claims if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective.)
Even if the Supreme Court decides to give Balentine another chance to make his case for mitigating circumstances, will it make a difference? We're talking about a man who confessed to killing three sleeping teenagers. In Texas. Absent insanity, is there anything that a lawyer could argue to a Texas jury that would produce a different outcome for Balentine?
- Order Staying Execution (Supreme Court)
- John Balentine v. Rick Thaler (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- Roundup: Supreme Court Opinions, Orders, and Oral Arguments (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)
- SCOTUS: Attorney Abandonment is Good Procedural Default Excuse (FindLaw's Eleventh Circuit Blog)