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Last Updated:  Thursday, 13 March, 2003, 02:14 GMT
Milestone Texas execution blocked
A man who has been on death row for two decades for killing a teenage boy has been granted a stay of execution by the US Supreme Court.

The court issued the stay, without comment, about 10 minutes before Delma Banks was to be put to death.

Delma Banks
Banks has been on death row for more than 20 years

The 44-year-old, who has now received 16 stays of execution, would have been the 300th person executed in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982.

Three former federal judges had backed Banks' appeal to the Supreme Court, which argues that his trial for murder 23 years ago was unfair because all the jurors were white.

His lawyers told judges he was poorly represented at trial, that prosecutors improperly kept black people off the jury, and that testimony from two prosecution witnesses was shaky.

Banks was convicted for shooting dead 16-year-old Richard Wayne Whitehead.

One night in April 1980, Banks met Whitehead and his girlfriend following a high school dance. Banks, then 21, bought some beer and the three went to a park.

Banks and Mr Whitehead later took the girl home and returned to the park, where Mr Whitehead was shot in the head.

Banks was already in jail when Texas restored the death penalty in 1982, following a nationwide lifting of the ban six years earlier.

Since then, 299 death-row inmates have been taken away for execution - making Texas the biggest state executor in the US.

The 299th execution was carried out on Tuesday, when Bobby Glen Cook received a lethal injection for robbing and fatally shooting Edwin Holder in 1993.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to block Banks' execution earlier this week, and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles dismissed his appeal because it was received a week after the deadline.

Banks' lawyers argue that black people were wrongly disqualified as jurors in their client's trial, and that two witnesses were unreliable.

But the man who prosecuted Banks, James Elliot, said four black people originally on the jury had to be excused for knowing Banks or his family.

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