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Texas execution halted with 10 minutes to go

©Associated Press
March 13, 2003

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- The Supreme Court blocked Texas on Wednesday from executing its 300th inmate since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982, granting a stay just minutes before the condemned man was to be put to death.

Delma Banks' claims that he was wrongly convicted of a murder 23 years ago had been backed by three former federal judges.

His lawyers told justices that he was poorly represented at trial, that prosecutors improperly kept blacks off the jury and that testimony from two prosecution witnesses was shaky. Banks is black, his victim was white and the jury was all-white.

"I just thank the Lord," Banks said after being told of the decision. "Give Jesus all the credit."

Relatives of Banks who were waiting outside the prison jumped joyously and hugged as word spread.

Prosecutors said they would continue to seek Banks' execution.

"I wish we could have brought it to a conclusion today," said James Elliott, who helped win Banks' conviction in 1980. "But I've been here 23 years and I'm prepared to stay here to see it through.

"The Supreme Court needs more time. You really can't draw any conclusion from the granting of a stay."

The court issued the stay without comment about 10 minutes before Banks, 44, was to be put to death for the 1980 murder of 16-year-old Richard Wayne Whitehead, a co-worker at a restaurant. Banks shot Whitehead "for the hell of it" after a night of drinking, according to a witness at Banks' trial.

With the reprieve, condemned murderer Keith Clay becomes the potential No. 300 with his scheduled March 20 execution.

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