THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF TEXAS
Ken Paxton

Monday, August 20, 2012

Media Advisory: John L. Balentine scheduled for execution

On August 22, 2012, The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of John Lezell Balentine so it can review Balentine's petition for review.

AUSTIN Pursuant to a court order by the 320th District Court of Potter County, Texas, John Lezell Balentine is scheduled for execution after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22, 2012.

On April 16, 1999, a Potter County jury convicted Balentine of capital murder for killing 17-year-old Mark Caylor, Jr., and two 15-year-old boys, Kai Geyer and Steven Brady Watson.

FACTS OF THE CASE


The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas described the murders of Mark Caylor, Jr., Kai Geyer, and Steven Brady Watson as follows:

At 2:30 a.m., on January 21, 1998, Officer Timothy Hardin of the Amarillo Police Department responded to a call that shots had been fired in an Amarillo, Texas, neighborhood. While investigating the call, he noticed [Balentine] walking from the area where the shots had been fired. Believing [Balentine] to be acting in a suspicious manner, Officer Hardin conducted a Terry stop. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). [Balentine] gave the officer incorrect information regarding his identity and address. A subsequent frisk of [Balentine’s] person revealed a .32 caliber bullet in his possession. However, no weapon was found and [Balentine] was not taken into custody, but was eventually released. Later that morning, three young men were discovered murdered in that same neighborhood, and in a house where [Balentine] had resided until a few weeks before the incident when he broke up with Misty Caylor, his girlfriend who lived there. Each of the young men had been shot in the head with a .32 caliber bullet while they slept. One of the murder victims was Mark Caylor, who had threatened [Balentine] because of [his] treatment of Misty Caylor, Mark’s sister. The investigation focused on [Balentine] and an arrest warrant was issued. [Balentine] left the Amarillo area shortly after the murders, but was later arrested in Houston, Texas. After his arrest in Houston, [Balentine] confessed he had committed these crimes.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 16, 1998, a Potter County jury found Balentine guilty of capital murder as charged in the indictment.

On April 19, 1998, after the jury recommended capital punishment, the 320th Judicial District Court of Potter County, Texas sentenced Balentine to death by lethal injection.

On April 3, 2002, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Balentine’s appeal and affirmed his conviction and sentence.

On January 22, 2001, Balentine sought to appeal his conviction and sentence by seeking an application for a state writ of habeas corpus raising twenty-one grounds for relief. On December 4, 2002, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Balentine’s application based on the findings and conclusion of the habeas trial court.

On December 1, 2003, Balentine petitioned for federal habeas relief from his conviction and sentence in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division.

On August 19, 2004, Balentine amended his petition, limiting it to nine grounds for relief, and filed a separate volume of exhibits.

On September 27, 2007, the U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division, issued a report and recommendation to deny habeas relief after finding several of Balentine’s claims to be defaulted and other claims to lack merit.

On March 31, 2008, the U.S. District Court overruled Balentine’s objections, denied Balentine’s motion for an evidentiary hearing, adopted the U.S. Magistrate Judge’s findings and conclusions, and denied habeas relief. By separate order issued the same day, the U.S. District Court denied Balentine’s motion to stay proceedings and issued final judgment.

On May 29, 2008, the U.S. District Court adopted the recommendation of the U.S. Magistrate Judge to grant Balentine a certificate of appealability (COA) on two claims, and to deny COA on all other grounds.

On April 13, 2009, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas relief and rejected Balentine’s request to expand the issues on appeal.

On June 23, 2009, the 320th Judicial District Court of Potter County, Texas ordered Balentine’s execution for September 30, 2009.

On July 2, 2009, Balentine petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision denying relief and denying COA, and applied for a stay of execution.

On July 16, 2009, Balentine moved the Fifth Circuit for a stay of execution, which was denied.

On August 21, 2009, Balentine filed a successive state habeas application alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to investigate and present mitigation evidence, and arguing that potential jurors were improperly excluded in violation of Batson. Alternatively, Balentine moved to reopen his initial state habeas proceedings for reconsideration of an ineffective assistance claim. Balentine also moved for a stay of execution.

On September 22, 2009, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Balentine’s successive habeas application as an abuse of the writ, declined to reopen the initial writ proceedings, and denied a stay of execution.

On September 23, 2009, Balentine moved the U.S. District Court to reopen the final judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 60(b)(6) in order to reconsider its procedural default ruling.

On September 28, 2009, Balentine petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari review of the order of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissing the Batson claim in his successive state habeas application, and moved for a stay of execution. On the same day, the U.S. District Court denied Balentine’s motion for Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) relief, but granted Balentine a COA to appeal the issue.

On September 29, 2008, Balentine appealed the denial of Rule 60(b)(6) relief and moved to stay his impending September 30th execution date. The Fifth Circuit granted a stay of execution.

On October 20, 2009, the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in Dallas on Balentine’s Rule 60(b)(6) appeal. On the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari review of the Fifth Circuit’s April 2009 decision affirming the denial of habeas relief and denying Balentine a COA.

On November 02, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari review of the order of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissing Balentine’s successive habeas application.

On June 18, 2010, the Fifth Circuit determined that the dismissal of a successive state habeas application constitutes a review of the merits and reversed the U.S. District Court’s order denying Rule 60(b)(6) relief.

However, on November 17, 2010, the Fifth Circuit granted a panel rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and issued a new opinion affirming the denial of Rule 60(b) relief. The Fifth Circuit also lifted the order staying Balentine’s execution.

On December 29, 2010, the Fifth Circuit denied Balentine’s motion for panel and en banc rehearing, and issued mandate.

On March 25, 2011, Balentine petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari review of his Rule 60(b) appeal.

On March 31, 2011, the Honorable Don Emerson, presiding judge of the 320th District Court of Potter County, Texas, ordered that Balentine be executed on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.

On April 7, 2011, Balentine moved the Fifth Circuit for a stay of execution, which was denied.

On June 6, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari review in Martinez v. Ryan, 131 S. Ct. 2960, (U.S. June 6, 2011), to consider whether ineffective assistance of first postconviction counsel might serve as cause to excuse the default of ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims.

Relying on the certiorari grant in Martinez, on June 6, 2011, Balentine moved the U.S. Supreme Court for leave to file an untimely petition for rehearing the 2009 denial of certiorari review on federal habeas, and applied for a stay of execution.

On June 13, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari review of Balentine’s Rule 60(b) appeal.

On June 13, 2011, Balentine filed a third state habeas application in the convicting court. The following day, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Balentine’s second successive habeas application.

On June 14, 2011, Balentine petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’s order of dismissal, and applied for a stay of his impending June 15 execution.

On June 15, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Balentine’s June 10th motion for out-of-time rehearing and denied his application for stay of execution. However, the high court granted a stay of Balentine’s execution pending consideration of the question presented in Martinez.

On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S. Ct. 1309 (U.S. 2012), announcing a narrow exception to procedural default in initial-review proceedings.

Six days later on March 26, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari review in Balentine’s case, thus lifting the order staying his execution.

On April 13, 2012, the convicting court ordered Balentine be executed after 6:00 p.m. CST, on Wednesday, August 22, 2012.

On July 12, 2012, Balentine filed an opposed motion in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division, seeking relief from final judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6), contending that the holding in Martinez excuses Balentine’s procedural default.

On July 24, 2012, Balentine petitioned for a reprieve, for commutation of sentence to a lesser penalty, and for a hearing from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

On July 30, 2012, the U.S. Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation to deny Balentine’s Rule 60(b)(6) motion.

On August 6, 2012, Balentine filed an opposed motion in the U.S. District Court seeking a stay of his August 22 execution.

On August 10, 2012, the U.S. District Court denied Balentine's request for a stay but granted a motion for a certificate of appealability.

On August 13, 2012, Balentine filed notice appealing the U.S. District Court's denial of Rule 60(b)(6) relief and an application for a stay of execution.

On August 17, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an unpublished opinion denying Balentine's motion for stay and affirming the district court's denial of Rule 60(b)(6) relief.

On August 20, 2012, Balentine petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for en banc reconsideration of the unpublished opinion affirming the denial of Rule 60(b)(6) relief. Balentine has also moved for a stay of execution.

On August 20, 2012, the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to deny Balentine's request for clemency.

On August 21, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Balentine's petition and his request for a stay of execution.

On August 21, 2012, Balentine filed a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, along with a motion for a stay of execution pending consideration and disposition of the writ of certiorari.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trial which is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.

During the punishment phase of Balentine’s capital murder trial, jurors learned that in 1983, Balentine committed burglary and theft of property by breaking into a high school JROTC building and stealing several rifles and military fatigues. In December 1986, Balentine climbed through the roof, entered a Walmart store, and attempted to steal a large quantity of firearms. Balentine was convicted of burglary, criminal attempt, and theft of property arising over the Walmart incident, and received a five-year sentence in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. In 1989, while Balentine was on parole, he committed robbery by hitting a 14-year-old male on the head with a bottle, and taking his money and cigarettes. Balentine’s parole was revoked and he received an additional five-year prison sentence.

In November 1996, Balentine broke into the Newport, Arkansas, home of a female co-worker, abducted her, and forced her into the backseat of her two-door car. The woman escaped when Balentine stopped at a convenience store to get cigarettes. Throughout the ordeal, Balentine told his hostage that he was going to tie her up, sexually assault her, and kill her.

Further testimony showed jurors that Balentine became uncooperative and argumentative with Harris County sheriff’s deputies in July 1998 while he was awaiting transfer to Potter County on the capital murder charge. Balentine knocked down a female deputy’s hand and struck another officer in the mouth with his right elbow, knocking that officer into a wall. Several deputies were needed to restrain Balentine who kept resisting, kicking, and throwing punches.

MISCELLANEOUS

For additional information and statistics, please go to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.