Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Impending Execution of John Balentine

John Lezell Balentine sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 22 August 2012. Given that his case has already been turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court, I suspect he will not survive the day.

From Balentine v. State (2002):
John Lezell Balentine was convicted of capital murder on April 19, 1999. ... 
Officer Timothy Hardin of the Amarillo Police Department testified that he was dispatched on a shots-fired call at 2:26 a.m. on Wednesday, January 21, 1998. When Hardin arrived, the complainant stated that he thought he had heard .22 caliber shots to the east of his residence. Hardin looked around and found nothing in the complainant's backyard or the alleyway behind the house. Two other officers then arrived and offered to assist Hardin by searching the area in their vehicle. After the officers left, Hardin noticed a man, later identified as Balentine, walking down the street two houses away from the complainant's residence. 
Hardin testified that when he first saw Balentine, Balentine had his hands in his pockets, appeared to be nervous, and was constantly looking over his shoulder in Hardin's direction. In addition, Balentine was walking away from Hardin at a brisk pace. Hardin ordered Balentine to stop and raise his hands in the air. Hardin then approached Balentine, and conducted a pat-down "Terry frisk" because he "didn't know if [Balentine] might be the person who had fired shots" and that he "wanted to make sure that there was no weapon on [Balentine] while I was speaking to him." Hardin did not feel any weapons. 
Nevertheless, Hardin suspected that Balentine may have been involved in the reported gunfire and he escorted Balentine to the back seat of his patrol car for questioning. When Hardin asked Balentine why he was in the area, Balentine stated that he was walking from a WalMart, which was approximately five miles away, to his sister's house, which was located several miles across town. Balentine identified himself as "John Lezell Smith" and told Hardin that he was staying with his sister. Balentine initially stated that he did not know his social security number but later told Hardin five of the digits. He then stated that he had planned to visit a friend in the area and agreed to let Hardin ask this friend to identify Balentine because Balentine did not have a driver's license or an identification card. 
Hardin drove Balentine to his friend's residence. Balentine's friend identified him as "John" and stated that he lived a block away, which contradicted Balentine's story that he was staying with his sister several miles across town. Balentine explained that his friend was unaware he had moved. When Hardin asked Balentine to show him where he used to live, Balentine gave Hardin an address that turned out to be an empty lot. 
Hardin asked Balentine if he had ever been arrested in Amarillo and Balentine replied that he had not. Hardin contacted the police dispatcher to run a records check. According to the police dispatcher, "John Lezell Smith" had been arrested for traffic warrants. Hardin again became concerned for his safety because he felt that a subject who would lie to him during questioning might "commit some type of unsafe act or conceal a weapon." 
Hardin placed Balentine in handcuffs, had him exit the vehicle, and conducted a second, more thorough pat-down search. When he patted down the outside of Balentine's front pants pocket, he felt what he thought was a small pocket knife. Hardin put his hand in Balentine's pocket and felt that the object was actually a lighter. While Hardin was feeling the lighter, his hand touched an object that he immediately recognized as a bullet. He removed the object from the pocket and saw that it was a .32 caliber bullet. Balentine told Hardin that he had recently been on a hunting trip and forgotten the bullet in his pocket. Hardin again placed Balentine in the patrol car and called a supervisor who told Hardin to complete a field interview card and then release Balentine because possession of a bullet was not against the law. 
Hardin returned the bullet to Balentine and offered him a ride to his sister's house, which Balentine accepted. The trip took five to ten minutes and Hardin dropped Balentine off at the residence at 3:36 a.m. Hardin returned to the area where he had detained Balentine to have another look around but found nothing. Later that day, officers for the Amarillo Police Department were called to the scene of a triple homicide that had occurred at a residence fifty yards from where Officer Hardin encountered Balentine. The police identified Balentine as a suspect the day the victims were discovered. Balentine was eventually arrested in July of 1998 in Houston. ... 
In addition, the State introduced evidence that the three victims were killed by .32 caliber bullets and that three spent cartridge shells found at the scene of the murders were marked identically to the bullet found on Balentine. ... 
Sergeant Paul Charles Horn, an investigator with the Special Crimes Unit in the Amarillo Police Department, was assigned to investigate the homicides. He testified at the suppression hearing that acquaintances of the victims identified "John Balentine" as a possible suspect. Investigators for the Unit also determined that "John Balentine" was the same individual as "John Lezell Smith," whom Officer Hardin encountered earlier that morning. They learned that Balentine had been staying in a building owned by Mr. Michael Means, located at 308 North Virginia Street in Amarillo. 
When Lieutenant Edward William Smith arrived at 308 North Virginia Street the following day, Means told him that he was not renting the residence to Balentine but that he had given him permission to stay there as a "guest" because "he felt sorry for him." 
[Footnote from the decision: Balentine had been living with his former girlfriend, Misty Caylor, who was the sister of one of the victims, Mark Caylor, in the residence in which the murders took place. That residence was  also owned by Means and Balentine came to know Means in the time he lived with Misty Caylor. Balentine contacted Means a few days before New Year's Day of 1998 and told Means that he had been thrown out of Misty Caylor's house.] 
Means gave written consent to search the residence. The police then searched the residence and found a receipt for the purchase of .32 caliber ammunition from a local K-Mart store. 
In his fourth point of error, Balentine challenges the admissibility of the taped confession that he gave after being arrested in Houston on July 24, 1998. 
... Finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
From Austin's Statesman:
Balentine, 41, was condemned for the 1998 slayings of Mark Caylor Jr., 17, and 15-year-olds Kai Brooke Geyer and Steven Watson. Caylor was the brother of Balentine's former girlfriend, and prosecutors said the slayings capped a feud between Caylor and Balentine. 
Evidence showed all three were shot once in the head as they slept at an Amarillo house where Balentine also once lived. ... 
Balentine was pulled over in Houston in July 1998 and gave a traffic officer a false name, but the alias was detected as one used by a man wanted in the shooting deaths of the three teenage boys six months earlier in Amarillo. 
In a tape-recorded statement to police played at his trial, Balentine said he moved out of the Amarillo house because of drug use there, then said he learned later that Caylor was looking to kill him because he had "jumped on his sister." He slipped into the house and "shot Mark in the head and shot the other two in the head," he said. 
"Mark had threatened my life, threatened my brother, girlfriend and the kids, waving a gun and talking about what he was going to do to me and whoever else come over there looking for me and stuff," he said. 
He also said he didn't know the other two victims.
I oppose the execution of any person who might be innocent of the crime for which they are to be executed. Regarding the propriety of all other executions, I stand mute. I neither support them nor oppose them.

In the case of John Lezell Balentine, I stand mute.

ADDENDUM (23 August 2012):
John Balentine was granted a last moment stay of execution by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I looked on the TDCJ website under 'Scheduled Executions' and when you look at Mr. Balentine's death row profile, it gives his full name as 'John Uzell Balentine', not 'John Lezell Balentine'. Which middle name does he actually have? Lezell or Uzell?

tsj said...

The appellate court listed the middle name as Lezell. If I attempt to figure out which of the two agencies, the TDCJ or the TCCA, might be correct, my head explodes.

The TDCJ has, in my opinion, executed multiple innocent people. They got that wrong. They will not concede it, but if they ever do, they will blame the TCCA who told them to go ahead. The TCCA will somehow blame the person executed or his attorney. Of the two agencies, I suspect the TDCJ comes closer to just following its orders and the TCCA is the one that makes the bigger mistake.

Having presented my in depth, unassailable analysis, I'm going to guess that neither of them is correct. I'm going to guess that his real middle name is Johnson.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to guess that I don't care what his middle name is as long as he dies on Aug. 22.

Anonymous said...

Gives a confession which of course he wants thrown out...he wants to live. your "unassailable analysis" is biased because of your obvious disdain for executions which is fine. The problem is that he gave a confession, has been found guilty, had that verdict checked multiple times, and it all still points to guilty and death. This man deprived three young kids of life. It won't make a difference to the families or the victims, but there are consequences to our actions. Time for John to face his.

Anonymous said...

Goodnight Balentine! And good riddance!

Will said...

You say toMAto, I say toMoto. What's in a name ? He confessed to shooting and killing 3 teenage kids. Giving someone like him life in prision means WE (the people) feed him, WE clothe him, WE give him medical care, WE run the risk of him killing a corrections officer, WE run the risk of him escaping, etc. (TSJ, I'm sure you are aware of what I just said) We must accept the risk while he sits back and gets to enjoy the entire rest of his life with no consequences ? Nah.... I don't think so...

Jenniffer Parker said...

No consequences? Life in prison is now considered "no consequences"? People give false confessions all the time. I don't know if his was false but it happens more than people want to believe.

Will said...

Living life in prison with ALL your medical care given to you, food, clothing, while the families and loved ones of the persons he killed have to help pay for his upkeep ? Give him a chance to one day walk out of prison ? Yes. he has no consequences. He has more freedoms than you or I. We have to pay taxes, work for a living, pay for our food, clothing, gas, medical, family expenses knowing if we don't WE will be cut off. If he refuses to do what he is told, what do they do to him ? Stamp his meal ticket "no desert" ? He committed a capital crime. He admitted to it, the evidence connects the crime to him. He has lived far better than many people in this country. He knows where all his meals are coming from. He knows that if he is not fed or misses a meal, he can sue the state. We, the people should not have to support a man like this given he has been convicted by a jury of his peers, sentenced to death, had his appeals heard and sentence upheld. The law of the land says that the death penalty IS constitutional. (as long as it meets standards set forth by the courts)

Anonymous said...

His middle name is actually Lezell though of course it matters not really. He has never shown remorse for his crime, in fact he justifies it by saying "they started it, I finished it". John's only regret is that he got caught. He took the lives of three kids and has been on deathrow almost as long as they lived, now where is the justice in that?

Greg Bowler said...

By the way it certainly wasn't a false confession, he still feels justified at what he did.

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