HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A former auto mechanic who shot and killed three of his former housemates while they were sleeping 14 years ago was hoping Tuesday to delay his execution for a third time.
John Balentine, 43, is scheduled to die by injection Wednesday evening.
Ballentine, who had a long criminal record in his native Arkansas before he killed the three Texas teens in January 1998, avoided lethal injection in September 2009 when a federal appeals court gave him a reprieve a day before his scheduled trip to the Texas death chamber. Then in June 2011, he was within an hour of execution when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped it.
Ballentine's attorney is seeking to stop his execution again.
"I thought it was done the last time," Randall Sims, the district attorney in Amarillo, said. "The sad part of every delay is it's not closure for the families of the victims."
Balentine's lawyer Lydia Brandt argued he had deficient legal help at his 1999 trial, that his legal assistance during early appeals also was faulty and the deficiencies have led to issues that should be reviewed in the courts but can't be addressed now because they weren't properly brought up earlier.
"Mr. Balentine's case is illustrative of why capitally sentenced prisoners in Texas have no meaningful opportunity to raise (these) claims," Brandt told the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Katherine Hayes, an assistant Texas attorney general, disagreed, saying the latest appeals were "only another attempt to delay ... proceedings and further postpone his impending execution."
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit refused Balentine's appeal, and Brandt's request for a rehearing before the full appeals court was pending Tuesday. Rejection there could send the case to the Supreme Court.
On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, voting 7-0, rejected a clemency petition for Balentine.
His guilt was not an issue in the appeals.
Balentine was convicted of fatally shooting Mark Caylor Jr., 17; Kai Brooke Geyer, 15; and Steven Watson, also 15. Caylor was the brother of Balentine's former girlfriend, and prosecutors said a feud between Caylor and Balentine led to the shootings in a tiny house where Balentine also once lived. Evidence showed all three teens were shot once in the head with a .32-caliber pistol as they slept.
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. He said he learned later that Caylor was looking to kill him because he had "jumped on his sister."
Balentine described slipping into the house and shooting each of the teens.
"Mark had threatened my life, threatened my brother, girlfriend ... waving a gun and talking about what he was going to do to me," he told police.
He said he didn't know the other two victims, Geyer and Watson.
Balentine was arrested six months later 600 miles away in Houston, where he was pulled over for driving a car with a broken taillight. He gave the traffic officer a false name that showed up as an alias for the suspect wanted in the Amarillo slayings.
He refused to speak with reporters as his execution date neared. Originally from Newport, Ark., he had a lengthy record in Arkansas that included at least two prison stints and convictions for burglary, kidnapping, assault and robbery. When he was 15, records show he broke into a high school ROTC building and stole rifles and military fatigues.
Randy Sherrod, one of Balentine's trial lawyers, has said Balentine rejected a plea bargain that would have sent him to prison for life because he feared being in the general prison population and believed death row would be safer because its inmates are kept isolated.
Brandt's appeal was critical of Sherrod and his now-deceased co-counsel for failing to produce witnesses to support a life sentence for Balentine rather than death. But Sherrod said they "couldn't find anyone to say anything good about him."
"We didn't have much to work with, really didn't," he said. "There was no way to get anything positive on the record."
Balentine would be the eighth prisoner executed this year in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state. At least eight other executions are scheduled for the coming months.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.