Texas Death Penalty Case Reversed Because of Prosecutor’s Misconduct Is Finally Resolved


More than eight years after the United States Supreme Court reversed his death sentence because prosecutors suppressed crucial evidence and allowed paid informants to testify falsely at trial, Delma Banks Jr. received a life sentence through an agreement reached last week.

Delma Banks was convicted by an all-white jury of a 1980 murder even though there were no witnesses to the killing and no physical evidence linked him to it. The prosecution’s case relied on the testimony of two informants, both admitted drugs users.

In 1999, nearly 20 years later, Banks’s new lawyers discovered that prosecutors had suppressed a transcript showing that one of the informants’ testimony had been extensively rehearsed and coached and the other had been paid.

A federal judge heard all of the evidence casting doubt on the State’s case and reversed Mr. Banks’s death sentence, ruling that the paid informant’s unreliable testimony at the sentencing hearing misled the jury into believing Mr. Banks – who had no criminal record – was far more dangerous than he was. The federal court of appeals reversed this grant of relief in an unpublished opinion.

Mr. Banks was just minutes from his scheduled execution in Texas when the Supreme Court intervened.

In 2004, the Court overturned Mr. Banks’s death sentence because prosecutors had suppressed crucial evidence that would have allowed the defense to discredit the two essential prosecution witnesses and allowed the informants to testify falsely. “When police or prosecutors conceal significant exculpatory or impeaching material in the State’s possession,” Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court, “it is ordinarily incumbent on the State to set the record straight.”

A new sentencing hearing was scheduled for October 2012. On August 1, Mr. Banks and prosecutors agreed that Mr. Banks would receive a life sentence. He is one of the longest-serving inmates in Texas death-penalty history. When he becomes eligible for parole in 2024, he will be 65 years old and have served 44 years in prison.