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Supreme Court halts scheduled execution in Texas

From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau

Delma Banks
Delma Banks

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court late Wednesday halted a scheduled execution just minutes before a Texas man was to be the 300th person put to death in the state since capital punishment was reinstated 27 years ago.

Lawyers for 44-year-old convicted killer Delma Banks had appealed to justices at the high court asking for a last-minute stay. Banks claims he was wrongly convicted of the 1980 murder of 16-year-old Richard Whitehead, a co-worker at a restaurant where both worked. He has been on death row since 1981.

The Supreme Court without comment granted the reprieve about 10 minutes before Banks was to die. In issuing its stay, none of the justices made any public objections to the order. Both a Texas appeals court and the parole board this week rejected his case.

Prosecutors in his case say Banks got a fair trial. But in their appeal to the Supreme Court, Banks' lawyers claimed his trial counsel was incompetent and that court testimony from witnesses was not strong enough to convict him. They also claim prosecutors deliberately kept African-Americans off the all-white jury. Banks is African-American; his victim was white.

The Supreme Court ruled last month another African-American man from Texas convicted of murder, Thomas Miller-El, should get a new trial to prove his contention of racial bias by the prosecution in the makeup of the all-white jury in his murder trial.

The stay in Banks case will continue until the justices decide whether to review his case. The Supreme Court rarely grants last-minute stays of execution.

Texas has executed the most individuals since 1976, about a third of the nation's total. The 299th person executed in the state, convicted killer Bobby Cook, was put to death Tuesday, the 10th execution this year.


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