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Supreme Court refuses to halt Texas man’s execution for murder of three teens

A Black man is set to die Wednesday night after unsuccessfully arguing his triple murder conviction was tainted by racial bias on the part of an all-white jury and his own defense attorneys.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court declined on Wednesday to intervene in a last-ditch effort to stop the execution of a Texas man who claimed his death sentence was influenced by racial animus. 

The application — submitted to Justice Samuel Alito on Wednesday afternoon — was denied by the full court without any noted dissents. The justices did not provide an explanation for their ruling. 

John Lezell Balentine, a 54-year-old Black man, shot and killed three white teenagers in 1998. Balentine claims one of his victims, Mark Caylor, was the brother of his white girlfriend and disapproved of the interracial relationship. Investigators found a note from Caylor at the crime scene calling Balentine racial slurs and threatening to kill him. Balentine confessed to the murders, and the jury sentenced him to death without hearing any evidence of mitigation. 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences on direct appeal. Balentine filed a habeas appeal and submitted a petition for certiorari but was denied both. After uncovering evidence of juror misconduct, Balentine filed a habeas petition at the end of last month. That petition was dismissed, prompting Balentine to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of stopping his Wednesday night execution.

Statements from members of Balentine’s jury revealed racial prejudices during his sentencing. The jury foreman signed a declaration stating his prejudices influenced his role as a juror. He also claims to have convinced other members of the jury to sentence Balentine to death instead of life in prison. The foreman went so far as to refuse to let the other jurors vote for life, refusing to send notes to the judge with those votes. The foreman was also accused of lying about his background, concealing information that would have taken him out of jury consideration. 

“Foreman [Dory] England misrepresented and failed to disclose critical information about his life experiences that, if disclosed, would have resulted in his dismissal from the jury for cause based on his apparent predisposition against Mr. Balentine and in favor of a death sentence,” Shawn Nolan, a public defender representing Balentine, wrote in his petition. “Moreover, Foreman England infected the deliberative process with this predisposition by intimidating jurors who did not want to vote in favor of a death sentence.” 

Balentine argues race was at the forefront of his entire case, from the murders themselves to the all-white jury that would hand him the death penalty. He even claims his defense attorneys showed racist animus toward him in a handwritten note taken during the penalty phase that said, “Can you spell justifiable lynching?” 

“Trial counsel’s reference to a justifiable lynching has no place in the lexicon of a capital defense attorney and is particularly disturbing in a case where the only Black person in the courtroom was Mr. Balentine,” Nolan wrote. “Counsel’s racially inflammatory commentary reflects the racial tensions that were at the core of this case.” 

Balentine has asked the justices to pause his execution in light of another case, Cruz v. Arizona, which the court heard earlier this term but has yet to decide. Cruz questions if the Arizona high court was wrong for denying John Montenegro Cruz postconviction relief for violations of his due process rights. Balentine also suggests the court should force the lower courts to consider his juror bias claims. 

Texas argues that Balentine’s juror bias claims were dismissed under state law, preventing the Supreme Court from stepping in to hear them. The state also says the justices should not use Balentine’s case to review the issues before them in his petition. 

“Jurisdiction notwithstanding, Balentine fails to provide a single compelling reason to grant a writ of certiorari,” Jay Clendenin, Texas assistant attorney general, wrote in the state’s brief. “This petition is a poor vehicle for many of his claims — fact-bound questions without evidentiary development or merits analysis in the court below.” 

Balentine’s execution is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday night. 

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