Last minute reprieve on Texan death row
The execution of Delma Banks Jr, has been halted by the US Supreme Court about 10 minutes before he was due to receive a lethal injection.
This would have been the stateís 300th execution since Texas brought back capital punishment in 1982, maintaining the its record as the most merciless judicial killing machine in the Western world.
Banks, 44, was convicted of murdering a 16-year-old co-worker in Nash, east Texas, in 1980. But many doubts over his guilt still remain.
One principal witness was a paid informant and another a convicted felon who was offered a sentencing deal in exchange for his testimony ñ an arrangement that was withheld from the defence at trial.
Other witnesses put Banks in Dallas, more than a three-hour drive away from the location of the murder.
A black defendant facing an all-white jury in a notoriously racist part of Texas, he received dubious legal representation.
His case has been described by one civil rights lawyer as a "one-stop shop for what's wrong with the administration of the death penalty".
The appeals courts however remained unmoved, even though Banks' cause has been taken up by three former federal judges, including William Sessions, an ex-FBI director.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week refused to block the execution, and the parole board dismissed a reprieve petition on the basis that it was filed too late.
Banks was in a holding cell next to the death chamber at the Walls Unit in Huntsville when he was informed the court had stayed his execution.
"I just thank the Lord," he told a prison official. "Give Jesus all the credit."
Banks had already eaten his last meal of two double meat cheeseburgers with trimmings, two orders of French fries, and a glass of orange juice, according to prison spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.
He was immediately returned to death row in Livingston, Texas. It was the 16th time his execution date has been cancelled.
The Supreme Court halted the execution to determine if the issues raised in the new appeal deserve appellate review. Banks attorneys were expected to ask the high court to hear issues of ineffective counsel and racial discrimination in jury selection.
Banks, who had no previous criminal record, has maintained his innocence since his arrest and refused to plead guilty.