HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) – The Supreme Court blocked Texas yesterday from executing its 300th inmate since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982, granting a stay just minutes before the condemned man was to be put to death.

Delma Banks’ claims that he was wrongly convicted of a murder 23 years ago had been backed by three former federal judges.

His lawyers told justices he was poorly represented at trial, prosecutors improperly kept blacks off the jury and testimony from two prosecution witnesses was shaky. Banks is black, his victim was white and the jury was all-white.

“I just thank the Lord,” Banks said after being told of the court’s decision. “Give Jesus all the credit.”

Relatives of Banks who were waiting outside the prison jumped joyously and hugged as word spread.

Prosecutors said they would continue to seek Banks’ execution.

“I wish we could have brought it to a conclusion today,” said James Elliott, who helped win Banks’ conviction in 1980. “But I’ve been here 23 years and I’m prepared to stay here to see it through.

“The Supreme Court needs more time. You really can’t draw any conclusion from the granting of a stay.”

Defense attorney George Kendall said in a statement that Banks’ case was “fraught with material and intentional state misconduct. … We are hopeful that this delay will allow a meaningful review of the serious crimes in his case.”

The high court issued the stay without comment about 10 minutes before Banks, 44, was to be readied for execution for the 1980 murder of 16-year-old Richard Wayne Whitehead, a co-worker at a restaurant. Banks shot Whitehead “for the hell of it” after a night of drinking, according to a witness at Banks’ trial.

Banks has been on death row 22 years. With the reprieve, condemned murderer Keith Clay now becomes the potential No. 300 with his scheduled March 20 execution.

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