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John Balentine's Final Words Before Texas Execution

Newsweek 2/9/2023 Khaleda Rahman
A file photo shows the Texas death chamber in Huntsville. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images A file photo shows the Texas death chamber in Huntsville.

A Texas man convicted of killing three teenagers while they slept was executed on Wednesday.

John Balentine, 54, 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.

All three were shot once in the head as they slept, prosecutors said.

The Associated Press reported that 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" before chuckling.

After a brief prayer from a spiritual adviser who held Balentine's left foot with his right hand, Balentine gave a short statement.

"Yes, ma'am, I want to thank y'all. I love y'all for supporting me. I want to apologize for the wrong I did to y'all. Forgive me, I'm ready ma'am," he said, according to a transcript provided to Newsweek by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The AP reported that he turned his head to look through a window at seven relatives of his three victims—including all three of their mothers—and apologized, saying: "I hope you can find in your heart to forgive me."

Balentine took two breaths as the lethal dose of pentobarbital began flowing through intravenous needles in his arms, snored twice, yawned and began snoring again loudly. The snores became quieter, then stopped.

He was pronounced dead at 6:36 p.m., 15 minutes after the drugs had been injected.

The AP reported that victims' witnesses shared high-fives before leaving the death chamber. Among them was Caylor's sister, Balentine's former girlfriend.

Prosecutors said the shootings arose from a feud between Caylor and Balentine. But he had argued that Caylor and others had threatened his life over his interracial relationship. Balentine was Black, while all three of the murder victims were white.

Balentine confessed to the murders, but his attorneys had sought to save his life by arguing that his trial and sentencing were rife with racial bias.

Balentine's attorneys said newly discovered evidence showed the jury foreman in his case, Dory England, harbored racist views, used racial slurs during his life and bullied other jurors into sentencing Balentine to death. England died in 2021, but in a declaration before his death said he had pushed for Balentine's death sentence because he worried that if he were ever released then he would "need to hunt him down."

Balentine's attorneys also alleged that his trial lawyers had referred to the sentencing proceedings in a note as a "justifiable lynching" and prosecuters had used their peremptory challenges to remove all prospective Black jurors. One of the trial attorneys, Randall Sherrod, told the AP that he could not remember the note but denied that he or the other attorney, James Durham Jr., had any racist attitude towards Balentine.

"Racism and racial issues pervaded John Balentine's capital trial," Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Balentine, told Newsweek in a statement on Wednesday.

"In light of this highly charged atmosphere, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal's unwillingness to address issues of bias and misconduct by the jury foreperson who held racist views, and who bullied people favoring a life sentence into voting for death, is all the more problematic."

Later on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the appeal to halt the execution so the claims of racial bias could be reviewed.

Balentine was also among several inmates who sued to prevent Texas' prison system from using allegedly expired and unsafe execution drugs. A Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman has previously told Newsweek that the state's supply of executions drugs "are within their use dates and have been appropriately tested."

On January 4, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals barred a civil court judge from issuing any orders in the prisoners' lawsuit. The state's top courts have allowed three of the five inmates participating in the lawsuit to be executed: Robert Fratta was put to death on January 10 and Wesley Ruiz on February 1.

Balentine was the sixth inmate to be executed in the U.S. so far this year, and the second in as many days after Leonard Taylor's execution in Missouri on Tuesday night.

Update 02/09/23, 4:55 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add extra information.

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