Condemned triple killer loses federal appeal

Crime Scene, Amarillo, TX, 1-21-98
Crime Scene, Amarillo, TX, 1-21-98
Crime Scene, Amarillo, TX, 1-21-98
Crime Scene, Amarillo, TX, 1-21-98
John Balentine
John Balentine

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal appeals court has lifted a reprieve it gave to a Texas prisoner who came within a day of execution last year for a triple slaying in Amarillo nearly 13 years ago.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, taking another look at the case of convicted killer John Balentine, said arguments from lawyers that his trial attorneys failed to adequately tell jurors in 1999 about Balentine's childhood of poverty, violence and abuse are procedurally defaulted and can't be considered.

The decision reverses a ruling earlier this year from the New Orleans-based appeals court.

Balentine's appeals attorney, Lydia Brandt, said Thursday while the decision is not good for Balentine, she will continue to pursue appeals.

"We are taking it under review and will proceed accordingly," she said. "I'm not going to say it's all over at this point. There's still more litigation that we can and I will be doing."

The court also rejected Brandt's request for a rehearing by the full 5th Circuit, but said a similar rehearing request could go before the three-judge panel that issued the latest ruling.

Balentine, 41, was condemned for the slayings of Mark Caylor Jr., 17, and 15-year-olds Kai Brooke Geyer and Steven Watson. They were each shot once in the head as they slept at an Amarillo house where Balentine also once lived.

Caylor was the brother of Balentine's former girlfriend and prosecutors said the slayings capped a feud between the estranged couple.

In September 2009, the 5th Circuit halted Balentine's punishment a day before he was scheduled for lethal injection in Huntsville.

Balentine was pulled over by a traffic cop in Houston in July 1998 and provided a false name, but the alias was detected as one used by a man wanted in the shooting deaths of the three teenagers six months earlier in Amarillo, 600 miles to the northwest.

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 wanted 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.

Balentine, from Jackson County, Ark., northeast of Little Rock, had previous prison terms in his home state for burglary, kidnapping, assault and robbery.