AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The execution of 54-year-old John Balentine, originally scheduled for February, has been recalled, according to documents filed Tuesday afternoon in Potter County District Court.
This comes after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) originally scheduled Balentine’s execution for Feb. 8, according to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com. Balentine was convicted of shooting three teens in Amarillo in January 1998.
According to the “Order Recalling Execution Date and Warrant of Execution,” Steven Denney, the judge for the 320th District Court in Potter County, said that the warrant of execution, along with the execution date has been recalled because Balentine’s legal team was not properly notified of Balentine’s warrant of execution, along with his execution date, in accordance with the timeline laid out in the Texas Criminal Procedure Code.
“…This court directs the State to reset the execution date as soon as practical with proper notice to ‘the attorney who represented the condemned person in the most recently concluded state of a state or federal postconviction proceeding…’,” the documents read.
In a motion from Balentine’s legal team, filed in Potter Couty District Court on Jan. 19, the team alleged that the court’s order setting an execution date and its warrant of execution for Balentine violated two specific portions of the Texas Criminal Procedure Code: articles 43.15 and 43.16.
According to the code, article 43.15 states that when a person is sentenced to death, “the clerk of the court in which the sentence is pronounced shall, not later than the 10th day after the court enters its order setting the date for execution, issue a warrant under the seal of the court for the execution of the sentence of death…” When that warrant is issued, it is required to be sent by the clerk to the attorney who represented the individual, in this case, Balentine, the attorney representing the state along with the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs (OCFW).
Article 43.16 of the code states that a valid warrant of execution is valid if the sheriff will deliver the warrant to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice “immediately upon the receipt of such warrant.”
“Because the clerk never sent the Warrant to Mr. Balentine’s counsel or OCFW, and because the sheriff did not immediately deliver it to TDCJ and return its receipt to the clerk of this Court,” the motion reads, “the Warrant has no legal significance or effect and cannot lawfully be used to carry out Mr. Balentine’s execution.”
In an additional motion to withdraw Balentine’s execution date, filed on Jan. 25, Balentine’s legal team claimed that the TDCJ would not conduct his execution in accordance with state law, claiming that officials would use expired Pentobarbital. According to the National Library of Medicine, Pentobarbital is a drug some states use for capital punishment and is commonly used by veterinarians for euthanasia and anesthesia.
During a hearing hosted in the District Court in Travis County earlier this month, the documents allege that TDCJ planned to use the expired drug in upcoming executions, which could cause “severe harm or unpredictable drug actions.” The motion states that the Travis County District Court allegedly concluded that by using this expired drug, TDCJ was violating the Texas Pharmacy Act, the Texas Controlled Substances Act, the Texas Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Texas Penal Code.
“When setting Mr. Balentine’s execution for February 8, 2022, this Court presumed that TDCJ was prepared and willing to perform Mr. Balentine’s execution in accordance with Texas law,” the motion read. “However, the factual findings and legal conclusions made by the District Court in Travis County demonstrate that TDCJ cannot or will not carry out Mr. Balentine’s execution in a lawful manner.”
In the state’s response to Balentine’s motion, filed on Monday, they argue that Balentine’s legal team had a “hyper-technical construction” of the statutes found in the Texas Criminal Procedure Code, stating that the “grievance lies in the perceived lack of immediacy in the notice his attorneys received and in the Sheriff’s delivery of the warrant to TDCJ and receipt therefrom to the District Clerk.”
“The ends of justice would not be serviced by the draconian construction of the letter of the statutory law Balentine advocates,” the response reads. “Statutes should be interpreted in a way that furthers their obvious aims… The families of Balentine’s victims have waited many years for the fulfillment of his sentence. Execution of that sentence should not be frustrated by Balentine’s eleventh-hour, dilatory pleading on unfounded grounds.”
In a response to the state filed Tuesday morning, Balentine’s team stated that the interpretation is not “hyper-technical” and “draconian,” but are “simple statutes (that) use mandatory language for the production and delivery of a warrant of execution.”
“If the statutes are not complied with, the warrant is defective,” the reply read.
As of Tuesday, the state had not responded to Balentine’s legal team’s claims surrounding the drugs that TDCJ was planning on using for the execution. As of Tuesday afternoon, Balentine’s execution has not been rescheduled by the TDCJ, according to its website.