- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

HUNTSVILLE, Texas, March 12 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of Delma Banks Jr. Wednesday, only about 10 minutes before he was to receive a lethal injection for a 23-year-old Texas murder.

Banks was in a holding cell next to the death chamber at the Walls Unit in Huntsville when he was informed the court had stayed his execution.

"I just thank the Lord," he told a prison official. "Give Jesus all the credit."

Banks had already eaten his last meal of two double meat cheeseburgers with trimmings, two orders of French fries, and a glass of orange juice, according to prison spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. He was immediately returned to death row in Livingston, Texas. It was the 16th time his execution date has been canceled.

Banks would have been the 300th convicted killer executed in Texas since the state restored the death penalty in 1982.

The Supreme Court halted the execution to determine if the issues raised in the new appeal deserve appellate review. Banks attorneys were expected to ask the high court to hear issues of ineffective counsel and racial discrimination in jury selection.

Banks attorneys have argued this week that the Texas court system never considered the merit of the final appeals. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to near the arguments because it said the attorneys missed a deadline. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a clemency petition without reading it because it was too late.

"I think this case goes to show, unfortunately, in Texas, substance and merit and concern about due process and possible innocence don't hold any water compared with technical procedures and rules," NAACP attorney Miriam Gohara told the Houston Chronicle.

Three former federal judges and an ex-prosecutor had joined the NAACP in arguments to win another Supreme Court review of the case. One of the judges was Williams Sessions, a former FBI director and ex-federal judge from Texas.

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 argued prosecutors secured the 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, another NAACP attorney, told United Press International last week that Sessions and the other supporters joined the appeal after reading previous court rulings and records from the 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.

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 n the case that would have resulted in his release from prison years ago.

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