A man convicted of killing three teenagers while they slept in a Texas Panhandle home more than 25 years ago was executed on Wednesday, the sixth inmate to be put to death in the US this year and the second in as many days. John Balentine, 54, whose attorneys had argued that his trial was marred by racial bias, received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, for the January 1998 shooting deaths of Edward Mark Caylor, 17, Kai Brooke Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15, at a home in Amarillo, the AP reports. Prosecutors said all three were shot once in the head as they slept.
Balentine appeared jovial as witnesses were entering the death chamber, asking if someone standing near the gurney could remove the sheet covering the lower two-thirds of his body “and massage my feet.” Then he chuckled. After a brief prayer from a spiritual adviser who held Balentine’s left foot with his right hand, the prisoner gave a short statement thanking friends for supporting him. Then he turned his head to look through a window at seven relatives of his three murder victims and apologized. "I hope you can find in your heart to forgive me," he said. At 6:36pm, 15 minutes after the drugs began, a physician pronounced him dead. The victims’ witnesses then shared high-fives before leaving the death chamber.
Caylor’s sister, who was among the witnesses watching him die, was Balentine’s former girlfriend, and prosecutors said the shootings stemmed from a feud between Caylor and Balentine. Balentine, however, argued that Caylor and others had threatened his life over his interracial relationship. Balentine is Black and the three victims were white. Balentine’s attorneys alleged the jury foreman in his case, Dory England, held racist views and bullied other jurors who had wanted to sentence Balentine to a life sentence into changing their minds. Lola Perkins, who had been married to England’s brother, told Balentine’s attorneys that England "was racist against Black people because that is how he was raised."
Balentine’s attorneys also alleged prosecutors prevented all prospective Black jurors from serving at the trial and that Balentine’s trial lawyers referred to the sentencing proceedings in a note as a "justifiable lynching." The US Supreme Court on Wednesday declined an appeal from Balentine’s attorneys to halt the execution so that his claims of racial bias could be properly reviewed. Balentine was also among five Texas death row inmates who sued to stop the state’s prison system from using what they allege are expired and unsafe execution drugs. (Read more Texas stories.)