- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas, March 6 (UPI) — Three former federal judges and an ex-prosecutor have joined in an unusual appeal to halt the execution of a Texas man who may have been wrongly convicted in a 23-year-old murder case.

William Sessions, a former FBI director and ex-federal judge, has joined two former federal appeals judges and an ex-federal prosecutor in the last-minute appeal to delay Wednesday's execution of Delma Banks Jr.

Banks, a 44-year-old black man, was convicted in 1980 of killing 16-year-old Richard Wayne Whitehead at Nash in northeast Texas. He was convicted largely on the testimony of two witnesses, and there was no physical evidence linking Banks to the slaying.

Banks' attorneys argue prosecutors secured a conviction and death sentence by knowingly allowing key witnesses to perjure themselves, withholding evidence from the defense and jury that would have discredited the witnesses, and excluding blacks from the jury that convicted their client.

George Kendall, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund representing Banks, said Thursday that Sessions and the others joined the appeal after examining rulings and court records in the Banks case.

"They came to the conclusion to let Mr. Banks to be executed March 12 without any further review by the Supreme Court would not be acceptable because there are very profound, deep questions with this case," he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to halt the execution to hear questions about ineffective counsel and racial discrimination in jury selection. Another appeal before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals raises issues about prosecutorial misconduct.

Along with Sessions, the Supreme Court brief was signed by former federal appellate judges John J. Gibbons and Timothy K. Lewis and former U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Sullivan. They are considered death penalty reformers, according to a spokesman.

"The questions presented in Mr. Banks' petition directly implicate the integrity of the administration of the death penalty in this country," the four men write in their brief. "The prosecutors in this case concealed important impeachment material from the defense."

The prosecutors have made no comment on the appeal.

Banks, who had no previous criminal record, has maintained his innocence since his arrest and refused to plead guilty. This is despite a plea deal he could have taken early in the case that would have resulted in his release from prison years ago.

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