‘Are you able to spell lynching?’: lawyer’s surprising observe in Texas execution case | Texas

‘Are you able to spell lynching?’: lawyer’s surprising observe in Texas execution case | Texas

In April 1999, John Balentine, a Black man on trial for homicide in Amarillo, Texas, sat earlier than an all-white jury as they deliberated whether or not he ought to stay or die.

Ought to he be given a life sentence, wherein case he would most likely finish his days behind jail bars? Or ought to they ship him to demise row to await execution?

Balentine had been convicted days earlier of murdering three white youngsters who had threatened to kill him as a result of he was romantically engaged with one of many youngsters’ white sisters – an interracial liaison extensively frowned upon in closely segregated Amarillo. Now it was the sentencing part of the trial, when his destiny could be determined.

Because the trial floor in the direction of its climax, a pair of Balentine’s protection legal professionals shuffled a observe between themselves. “Are you able to spell LYNCHING?” certainly one of them quipped in his crabby handwriting.

Earlier than handing the observe again, the second lawyer inserted a phrase: “Are you able to spell Justifiable LYNCHING?”

‘Are you able to spell lynching?’: lawyer’s surprising observe in Texas execution case | Texas
The observe from Balentine’s 1999 protection legal professionals. {Photograph}: John Balentine appeals petition

A facsimile of the trade is contained amongst 223 pages of proof submitted to the Texas courtroom of prison appeals this week as a part of a last-ditch try to save lots of Balentine’s life. The prisoner was scheduled to be executed by deadly injection subsequent Wednesday, and although an area courtroom this week ordered the demise warrant to be recalled on procedural grounds, the state is urgent for the judicial killing to go forward.

Accompanying the package deal of latest proof, Balentine’s present authorized workforce has filed a petition which outlines the various disturbing anomalies behind his demise sentence. The “justifiable lynching” observe written by his personal protection legal professionals – which the petition decries as “unconscionable” and “gorgeous in its disgust for his or her consumer” – is only one instance of the racial toxicity that the legal professionals argue permeated the proceedings.

The petition doesn’t argue that Balentine is harmless. Nor does it problem the info of his conviction: that on 21 January 1998, he broke into the Amarillo home of Mark Caylor, 17, Kai Brooke Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15, and shot them to demise with a 32-caliber pistol as they lay sleeping.

“This isn’t a whodunit,” stated Shawn Nolan, the lead counsel interesting Balentine’s pending execution. “However this can be a standout case. We regularly see some racial animus creeping into the system, however on this case it’s so overt, it’s actually hanging.”

Racial battle was current in the beginning of the grim sequence of occasions that has now introduced Balentine, 54, to the sting of the demise chamber. The set off was his relationship with Misty Caylor, a white lady, which incurred the racist wrath of her brother Mark.

The 17-year-old had a violent previous. He had lately been launched from a juvenile boot camp after firing bullets at a home. Incensed by his sister’s affiliation with a Black man, he acquired one other firearm and advised a number of acquaintances that he deliberate to make use of it.

Detectives discovered a observe on the crime scene wherein Caylor had written: “I’m gowing [sic] to kill the neger”. He added the quantity 187 – hip-hop slang for “homicide” primarily based on part 187 of the California penal code.

The note from Misty Caylor’s brother Mark.
The observe from Misty Caylor’s brother Mark. {Photograph}: John Balentine appeals petition

One other brother, Chris Caylor, testified that shortly earlier than the shootings he pinned a bit of paper referencing the Ku Klux Klan to Balentine’s entrance door.

“This case was racially motivated from the start,” Nolan stated. “These folks have been coming after John due to the interracial relationship, and his protection legal professionals at trial actually dropped the ball on presenting that proof to the jury.”

Balentine confessed to the murders quickly after he was arrested, and the Texas prison justice machine cranked into gear. Right here once more, problems with race and racial bias have been current from the beginning.

The trial prosecutor faraway from the pool of potential jurors the one two African People accessible – creating an completely white jury. When it was put to the prosecutor that the strikes have been discriminatory – and thus illegal below the US structure – he countered that he had primarily based his choice on an harmless query.

He requested potential jurors: did they’ve any doubts that OJ Simpson had been responsible of the 1994 murders of his spouse Nicole Brown Simpson and her buddy (Simpson was acquitted, although later discovered accountable in a civil trial)?

Each Black people stated that, sure, they did have doubts about Simpson’s guilt, and have been thus faraway from the jury pool. But the prosecutor didn’t clarify why he selected to not strike different potential jurors who have been white and who expressed precisely the identical reservations.

When Nolan started digging into the case as Balentine’s attraction lawyer just a few years in the past, he was dismayed to find a wealth of mitigating proof that had by no means been put to the jury. In his opinion, such proof wouldn’t have condoned the triple murders however may need positioned Balentine’s homicidal conduct in context.

“We discovered compelling proof of unbelievable poverty in John’s childhood, horrific bodily and sexual abuse as a toddler, proof that he suffered from long-term mind harm – none of it introduced to the jury as a result of his protection legal professionals did such a horrible job. That’s why John ended up on demise row.”

Nolan’s declare is supported by among the jurors. Steve Fulton stated in a deposition in September 2021 that “I didn’t know Balentine was molested or crushed or any of that. If I had identified, I might not have voted to present him a demise sentence.”

One other juror, Tara Smith, who was deposed in June 2021, stated she was saddened to be taught years after the occasion that they’d been unaware of crucial details about Balentine’s previous. “It appears unfair to not have heard issues about John, like sexual abuse he suffered, or racism in his childhood, or mind harm that causes poor decision-making.”

A big swath of the petition is reserved for dialogue of Dory England, the jury’s foreperson. The account bears comparability to Twelve Indignant Males, the 1957 film that revolves across the deliberations of a jury at a homicide trial – besides in reverse.

Like Juror Eight, the character performed by Henry Fonda in Sidney Lumet’s celebrated movie, England managed to sway the votes of a number of of his fellow jurors. Not like Juror Eight, nevertheless, he used his formidable powers of persuasion to not spare the defendant, however to ship him to demise row.

In keeping with the testimony of fellow jurors, England succeeded in cajoling no less than 4 of the 12 to alter their vote from a life sentence to the demise penalty. The petition bluntly states that “the jury foreman was a racist, who believed that it was as much as him to ensure that Mr Balentine could be killed, and, to that finish, bullied jurors who thought a life sentence was applicable into altering their minds”.

From a younger age rising up in Amarillo, England harbored racist tendencies, the petition suggests. Among the many package deal of proof introduced to the Texas appeals courtroom is the deposed testimony of Lola Perkins, who taken care of England as his guardian when he was a younger teenager.

Perkins recalled a combat that England instigated at college within the early Seventies, at a time when his Amarillo center faculty was being desegregated. She stated: “Dory began the combat as a result of he didn’t like Black folks, those he referred to as [the N-word]. He was racist in opposition to Black folks as a result of that’s how he was raised. It’s how numerous us have been raised in Amarillo, again when Blacks and whites didn’t mesh.”

England went on to hitch the Marine Corps. In a authorized declaration in Might 2021, simply three weeks earlier than he died, he stated that his fight experiences had knowledgeable his perspective as foreperson at Balentine’s trial.

He had pushed for Balentine’s execution, he stated, as a result of he was satisfied that if the prisoner have been ever launched from custody he would personally have to trace Balentine down and kill him. “If I ever noticed Balentine on the road, I’d shoot him myself,” he stated.

England went on: “I knew if the others opted for all times there was an opportunity he might get paroled, I would wish to hunt him down. I’ve been in fight and I’ve come head to head with killers and I’ve killed extra folks than I can recall, so I understood what wanted to occur to maintain folks protected.”

Such a violent fantasy of looking Balentine and gunning him down not solely bore echoes of the “justifiable lynching” observe shuffled between the prisoner’s protection legal professionals, it was additionally primarily based on a fallacy. On the time of Balentine’s trial, the earliest the prisoner would have been eligible for parole on a life sentence was after 40 years, and even then his probabilities of being launched have been lower than slim.

“Texas doesn’t parole folks on homicide circumstances, they simply don’t,” Nolan stated.

England described in his personal phrases the acute strategies he used to browbeat fellow jurors into altering their vote. He recalled how when the 12 men and women first entered the jury room and started their deliberations on the sentence, 4 of them opposed the demise penalty.

“I’m fairly cussed and fairly aggressive. I don’t play properly with others. I made it clear that we have been chosen to deal with this drawback, and that the demise penalty was the one reply.”

He added: “I made it clear that what we have been doing was biblically justified.”

England additionally recalled how he handled one of many feminine jurors who was so disturbed by the potential of Balentine being executed that she wrote a observe saying that she didn’t wish to impose the demise penalty. When England found the observe, he didn’t organize for it to be handed to the decide as forepersons are speculated to do.

“I ripped it up and it didn’t go away the room,” he stated.

England’s fellow juror, Tara Smith, additionally famous in her deposition that there had been holdouts to a demise penalty among the many 12. “A few these of us might have felt like they couldn’t categorical that they didn’t wish to sentence John to demise. The foreman was a very robust persona,” she stated.

England was himself conscious of the impression his demeanor had on different jurors. After the sentence was handed down, prosecutors got here to speak to the 12 and requested them whether or not they felt they’d been in a position to venture their opinions contained in the jury room.

“He wouldn’t allow us to!” a feminine juror exclaimed, pointing to the foreperson. England recounted that story in his personal deposition, including the wry comment: “I’m fairly powerful in that means.”

With a lot materials pointing to the mishandling of Balentine’s sentencing part at trial, and with a lot proof of racial animus within the case, Nolan is left reflecting on the state of the demise penalty in Texas. Below constitutional regulation, racial discrimination is barred from the judicial course of, whereas the last word punishment is meant to be reserved just for essentially the most heinous, cold-blooded crimes.

“This isn’t the worst of the worst,” Nolan stated. “His life was threatened, there was a lot mitigation that by no means reached the jury, and the racism is simply so pervasive. A courtroom must step in and put the brakes on this.”