John Lezell Balentine, 54, was executed by lethal injection on 8 February 2023 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of three teenage boys.
In Amarillo on the afternoon of Tuesday, 20 January 1998, Chris Caylor, 21, left the home where he lived with his cousin, Mark Caylor, 17, to use a pay phone. When he returned at about 6:00 p.m., Mark was sleeping on the couch in the living room. Their friends, Kai Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15 came over around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. The friends smoked marijuana in the living room and listened to the radio. Geyer shook Mark in an attempt to wake him, but he couldn't. Chris went to bed around 11:00 or 12:00 p.m. He testified that he had been using methamphetamine and had not slept in "four or five days."
At 2:26 a.m. on Wednesday, Amarillo Police Officer Timothy Hardin was dispatched on a shots-fired call. The neighbor who made the complaint told Hardin he thought he heard gunshots to the east of his residence. Hardin and two other officers who subsequently arrived searched the area. After the other two officers left, finding nothing, Hardin noticed a man walking down the street two houses away from the Caylors' house. Hardin testified that the man was walking away briskly with his hands in his pockets, frequently looking over his shoulder in Hardin's direction.
Hardin approached the man, ordered him to stop, and frisked him. He did not feel any weapons. He took the man to the back seat of his patrol car for questioning. He did not have any identification on him and verbally identified himself as John Lezell Smith. Hardin noticed inconsitencies in his story about where he was going and where he lived. When the police dispatcher informed Hardin that John Lezell Smith had been arrested for traffic warrants, he placed him in handcuffs and conducted a more thorough search of his person. He found a .32-caliber bullet in his front pants pocket. He subsequently released the suspect and drove him home.
Chris Caylor testified that he awoke around 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, went to the bathroom, and laid back in bed to smoke a cigarette. He was then startled by the screaming of his friend, Kelly Moon. He came out to the living room to see that Mark, Geyer, and Watson were dead. He and Kelly called the police and waited.
The police interviewed Chris at the police station. He told them he suspected John Balentine of killing the boys.
Balentine was arrested in July 1998 in Houston. Officer Hardin identified him as the same man he detained on the morning of the murders, who identified himself as John Lezell Smith.
Balentine confessed to the murders. He stated that in the early morning of 21 January, he walked about five miles to the home he used to share with his ex-girlfriend, Misty Caylor, and entered it. He got himself a drink from the kitchen. He then realized that his gun was jammed and left the house to test it by shooting it in the alley. He then went back inside and fatally shot the three victims as they slept with a .32-caliber pistol. He shot each boy in the head one time.
Balentine, who was 30 at the time of the killings, was black. All of his victims were white, as was Misty. The trial record showed that Balentine knew Mark and Chris Caylor, who were Misty's brother and cousin, respectively, but did not know Geyer or Watson.
According to Chris's testimony, he had previously lived in that same house with Balentine and Misty and that he and Balentine "became pretty good friends then." He testified that he saw Balentine cheat on Misty and he tried to tell her, but she didn't believe him, and they kicked him out of the house. Mark moved in "a little bit before Christmas." In about the first week of January, Chris visited the house and found Misty with a black eye and crying. A boy who he didn't know, about 12 years old, was also there and "was bleeding pretty bad."
Misty told Chris and Mark that Balentine beat her and moved out. They went, with Chris's stepbrother, Justin, to the house where Balentine was living to confront him. Chris testified that Mark "started banging on the door and hollering for John" to come out and fight him. Racial epithets and slurs were used. Balentine did not come outside. Eventually, an older woman came out and told them to leave, and they did. Chris said he wrote a threatening note referencing the Ku Klux Klan and left it on the door. He testified that he was never a member of the KKK and had never inquired about joining it, but used their logo because "I was just mad at the time." He testified that Mark had nothing to do with the note.
After this incident, Misty moved in with her aunt. Chris moved back into the house with Mark.
Balentine pleaded not guilty and did not testify at his trial. His lawyer, James Durham, tried to show that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he committed the murders. He highlighted Chris and Mark's drug use and their reputed association with a gang or gangs. The lawyers did not present any evidence or call any witnesses during the punishment phase of the trial.
Balentine had previous convictions going back to 1982 in Arkansas for burglary, aggravated assault, and accessory to robbery. He was sent to prison three times and released on parole each time. A witness at his punishment hearing testified that in 1996, Balentine broke a window of her home and then kidnapped her when she ran out to her car.
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