"I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

The early morning hours of January 21st, 1998 were bitingly cold, below freezing, in Amarillo, Texas. Three friends Mark Caylor (17), Kai Brooke Geyer (15), and Steven Brady Watson (15) were all asleep in the home of Mark's sister Misty. Misty had recently thrown out her former boyfriend, John Lezel Balentine, due to drug use and violent arguments. The boys may have been there to protect her, or to provide her some comfort. Or maybe they just needed a place to hang out together.

Mark was fiercely protective of his sister and had been vocal in his dislike of John and the two's relationship. His animosity towards John was said to be attributed to the physical violence dealt towards his sister; but others argued that it was instead more rooted in race, was John was black and Misty was white. Whatever the true context, we will never know; because Mark, along with Kai and Steven, never woke up that morning.

Background Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers; foreground Texas mugshot
Background Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers; foreground Texas mugshot

Officer Timothy Hardin was on duty at 2:00 a.m. that morning. He responded to a "shots fired" call and found a man walking down the street near the area where the shots were heard. Officer Hardin asked the man where he was walking- it was very cold and very late. The man, John, said he was walking from Wal-Mart to his sister's home. Both locations were several miles away from where these two men stood. John seemed really nervous and claimed he could not remember his social security number. When asked if he had ever been arrested in Potter County, he said no. That proved to be false.

At that point, Officer Hardin patted down John and found a .32 caliber bullet in his pocket. John said he had recently been hunting. Having a bullet on your person is no crime, especially not in Texas, so Officer Hardin was instructed to let John go, in spite of Officer Hardin's suspicions that John was somehow involved in the shots fired complaint.

Later that day, Amarillo Police responded to a call reporting a triple homicide. Three young men--boys really-- each had one .32 caliber bullet in their heads.

Mark Caylor was the only one whom John knew personally.

John's Prior Prison Record

Convicted in Arkansas for Burglary; Conditionally released 3/82; Jackson County, Arkansas Cardinal Abuse Kidnapping and Aggravated Assault with a Knife; Arkansas Department of Corrections #883268 on a 5 year sentence for Burglary; released on Parole 4/89; returned as a Parole Violator with a new conviction 5 year sentence for Assessor to Robbery (cousin and one co-defendant robbed 14-year old white male by hitting him on the head with a bottle) #88326B; released on Parole 3/93 and discharged 4/93.

"Forgive me, I'm ready."

John, after fleeing to New Mexico, was apprehended. He confessed to the killings. A plea deal and life in prison seems like the most logical outcome. But in John's case, he opted to go to trial, where he received a guilty verdict and was summarily sentenced to death.

In the appeals that followed, a public campaign was launched that cast John's death sentence in a corrupted light. Allegations and suggestions were made towards the racism of his own attorneys and jurors.

The filing also scrutinizes Balentine’s defense lawyers for racist attitudes and for disparaging their own client. In one handwritten note between two of the attorneys, one wrote, “Can you spell justifiable lynching?”

One juror wanted to give John life in prison, but the foreperson tore the note to the judge up, “I made it clear that we were chosen to take care of this problem, and that the death penalty was the only answer."

But if one were to go deeper into the filings, they wound find something far more unsettling. That is, that John had rejected a plea bargain that would spare his life. He even went as far as to instruct his trial attorneys to not call any witness who would help spare his life. According to testimony from one of his appointed attorneys, his reasoning was that he would enjoy a better quality of life on Death Row.

Balentine v. Lumpkin, TDCJ; Fifth Circuit, U.S. CoA
Balentine v. Lumpkin, TDCJ; Fifth Circuit, U.S. CoA

John was executed on February 8th, 2023, 25 years after the triple murders of boys who would now be in their early 40s. After John drew his last breath, slowed to a stop by the effects of a high dose of phenobarbitol, the victim's witnesses exchanged high-fives.

Executed Death Row Inmates from the Texas Panhandle

The following individuals were convicted of Capital Murder for crimes committed in the Texas Panhandle (Amarillo and its surrounding areas) and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Read a brief summary on the area's executed Death Row inmates.

All information and photos have been taken from TDCJ and court records.

Gallery Credit: Sarah Clark

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Gallery Credit: Texas Department of Public Safety

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