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Supreme Court declines to halt execution of Texas man who said juror and attorneys were racist

After a Texas court reinstated his execution Wednesday, John Lezell Balentine took his final appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that his death sentence should be reassessed in light of new evidence of juror misconduct and racial bias. The justices declined to block the execution in a brief, unsigned order with no recorded dissents.

Texas executed Balentine by lethal injection on Wednesday evening.

The court’s order denying Balentine’s appeal was the second time in two days that the court green-lighted an execution without comment.

Mug shot of John Balentine

John Balentine in 1999.


Balentine, a Black man, was sentenced to death in 1999 for shooting and killing three white teenagers in Amarillo, Texas. One of the victims, Mark Caylor, was the brother of Balentine’s ex-girlfriend and had been openly hostile about the couple’s interracial relationship. Caylor used racist slurs and at one point threatened to kill Balentine after stealing multiple guns.

Balentine confessed to the murders but argued that he may have been spared the death penalty if not for pervasive racial bias at his trial. The jury that convicted and sentenced Balentine was all white except for one juror of Hispanic descent. Lawyers for Balentine told the Supreme Court they had uncovered new evidence of animosity toward Black people and interracial couples by the jury’s foreperson, who said during jury deliberation that he would personally hunt down and kill Baletine if he was paroled.

The foreperson, Balentine’s lawyers argued, also did not disclose disqualifying violent incidents in his past and intimidated jurors who said that they did not want to give the death sentence. One juror, when asked by prosecutors after the verdict if she had been able to express her views, pointed to the foreperson and said, “He wouldn’t let us!”

Balentine’s trial counsel also demonstrated racial hostility toward their client. A handwritten note between Balentine’s attorneys from the penalty phase reads, “Can you spell justifiable lynching?”

Handwritten note reads "Can you spell justifiable lynching?"

A Texas judge ruled last week that Balentine’s execution should be delayed because his lawyers were not properly notified of the execution date. But on Wednesday morning, a Texas appeals court reinstated the execution, prompting Balentine to seek emergency relief at the Supreme Court. Balentine urged the justices to take his case to determine whether the evidence of racial bias and disqualifying omissions violated his constitutional rights under Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado and Buck v. Davis. He wrote that the case should at least be held pending the court’s decision in Cruz v. Arizona, a death penalty case involving state procedural rules that was argued at the Supreme Court in November.

Texas countered that Balentine raised “highly fact-bound questions” at a stage where there is no fact finding and that the court did not have jurisdiction over claims adequately dismissed by state courts. The state denied that any of the juror declarations demonstrate that the verdict was directly “animated by racial stereotypes or animus” and, therefore, Balentine’s case did not satisfy the Peña-Rodriguez standard. Further, the state said, the jury foreperson’s claims about his past were so “far-fetched” that his declaration could not be relied on.

Recommended Citation: Ellena Erskine, Supreme Court declines to halt execution of Texas man who said juror and attorneys were racist, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 9, 2023, 10:16 AM),