Supremes Take Banks Case
On April 21, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will indeed review the case of Texas death row inmate Delma Banks Jr., whose 1980 trial is widely believed to have been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective defense counsel. "We are delighted with the news," said Banks' attorney George Kendall of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The decision to hear Banks' appeal came just over a month after the high court issued a last-minute stay of execution for Banks, just 10 minutes before he was scheduled to die; it was Banks' 15th execution date since his conviction for the April 1980 murder of 16-year-old Richard Whitehead near Texarkana. For over two decades, Banks' case has been punted between various state and federal courts; twice a federal judge affirmed his complaints, but those rulings were shot down in August 2002 when the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all of his claims.
At trial, the state argued that Banks, who had no prior criminal history, shot and killed Whitehead in a park in order to steal his car and drive to Dallas. Central to the state's case was the testimony of two men, Charles Cook and Robert Farr, both of whom factor in the claims of prosecutorial misconduct. Cook testified that he met Banks in Dallas driving Whitehead's car and that over the course of a weekend Banks confessed to killing the white teenager. Farr testified that he drove with Banks to Dallas shortly after the murder to retrieve the gun with which Banks had killed Whitehead and that Banks had admitted to needing the gun so that he could commit a robbery. Jurors did not know that Farr was an informant paid by a Bowie Co. sheriff's deputy to secure a gun from Banks and that Cook was coached extensively prior to trial in order to get his story straight. Both witnesses have since recanted their testimony, each saying they were variously coerced by the state.
The court also will hear Banks' claims of inadequate defense counsel. His trial lawyer, former Bowie Co. DA Lynn Cooksey, failed to cross-examine the majority of prosecution witnesses and also failed to present testimony during the punishment phase of the trial. Current Bowie Co. DA James Elliott, who helped prosecute Banks, has adamantly maintained Banks' claims are without merit and that the case is solid.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in Banks' case in early November. For more on the case, see "Condemned Banks Looks to Supreme Court," March 3, and "Supreme Court Ponders Banks' Death Row Case," March 21.