Top court halts Texas execution of convicted triple murderer

AUSTIN, Texas Wed Aug 22, 2012 7:32pm EDT

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AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A man convicted of fatally shooting three sleeping teenagers in 1998 won a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, less than an hour before he was due to be put to death in Texas.

It was the third time that John Balentine, 43, has been granted a stay of execution. Justice Antonin Scalia reviewed Balentine's emergency appeal and referred the case to the full court for consideration.

Balentine, 43, also got a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court last year on the day he was scheduled for lethal injection, and from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 2009 on the day before his execution date.

He appealed to the Supreme Court after the appeals court on Tuesday refused to reconsider his request for a stay.

Balentine argued he deserved a reprieve because an ineffective trial lawyer failed to present mitigating evidence, such as emotional problems and a difficult upbringing, that could have led to a life sentence.

In January 1998, Balentine entered the Amarillo home of his ex-girlfriend and shot her brother, Mark Caylor, Jr., 17, and two others, Kai Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15, while they were sleeping. All three teens were shot in the head with a .32 automatic pistol.

Balentine had broken up with Misty Caylor and moved out of the house a few weeks earlier, according to court documents. Caylor's brother had threatened Balentine because of how he treated her, court documents said.

Balentine confessed to the murders after his arrest in Houston, according to the Texas Attorney General's Office.

He would have been the eighth person executed in Texas this year and the 28th in the United States.

Texas has conducted more executions than any other U.S. state since the Supreme Court in 1976 reinstated the death penalty after a four-year hiatus.

(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan, Terry Baynes and Jonathan Stempel.; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Greg McCune and Doina Chiacu)

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