Banks' Execution Expected to Proceed; Attorneys Hit Hard by Plea Setbacks

Article excerpt

Byline: Hugh Aynesworth, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HUNTSVILLE, Texas - Attorneys for a man who has languished on Texas' death row for more than 22 years said they are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court halts his scheduled execution tonight, but admit the odds are against them.

Delma Banks Jr., 44, convicted of killing a Texarkana area teenager in April 1980, has watched 299 other Texas inmates march into the execution chamber since he arrived on death row at age 21.

Tonight he would become the 300th inmate to die since the state reinstituted the death penalty in 1982.

The Banks case has rallied death-penalty opponents and its share of worldwide scorn against what some see as an assembly-line type of execution process in Texas. There, however, are some new twists.

For one, former U.S. Attorney General William Sessions has filed a brief with the high court, insisting Banks did not receive a fair trial.

Also, a pair of witnesses who testified against Banks and were not cross-examined later admitted they had lied and made a deal with prosecutors.

Banks insists he didn't do it. He has admitted drinking beer and driving around with the victim, Richard Wayne Whitehead, 16, but said he didn't fatally shoot him.

Mr. Sessions' brief, filed with three other lawyers, says Banks' original attorney did not provide a vigorous defense and refused to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses. It also said that the state withheld a crucial witness interview for 19 years.

"These claims go to the very heart of the effective functioning of the capital punishment system," the "friend-of-court" brief said.

On Monday, attorneys for Banks experienced setbacks as both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied pleas.

The criminal appeals court ruled against a stay of execution, and the parole group refused to consider clemency because, according to its chairman, Gerald Garrett, Banks' attorneys were a week late in filing the request. …