Pa. high court: Killer not competent for execution

AP News
Posted: Sep 28, 2011 7:12 PM
Pa. high court: Killer not competent for execution

A man convicted of murdering 13 people in northeastern Pennsylvania nearly three decades ago is mentally incompetent to be executed, Pennsylvania's highest court ruled Wednesday.

George Banks has been on death row since he turned a semi-automatic rifle on his victims, who included 11 members of his own family _ five were his children _ in Wilkes-Barre and Jenkins Township in September 1982.

"It appears that Banks is in a different place mentally than he was nearly 30 years ago when he committed his crimes and when he was tried. Perhaps that deterioration provides some solace to Banks, even though it provides no solace, nor closure, for the families of his victims," Chief Justice Ronald Castille concluded in a 32-page opinion.

In 2004, then-Gov. Ed Rendell signed a death warrant for Banks, but the execution was stayed after his mother, Mary Yelland, filed a petition on grounds that it would violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court invoked "extraordinary jurisdiction" over the case because of the lack procedural rules for handling such case _ a problem that Banks' lawyer said the latest ruling should help relieve.

"It has been a long ordeal," said Al Flora, who was a public defender five years out of law school when he was appointed as Banks' attorney.

The court said testimony at a competency hearing last year by expert witnesses for the state and defense established that the former prison guard suffers from a psychotic disorder and is delusional about his crimes and punishment.

Luzerne County Senior Judge Joseph M. Augello, who presided over that hearing, found that Banks is "incapable of rational thought."

Among Banks' delusions are his belief that a police conspiracy resulted in at least two of his victims' deaths, that he was being poisoned in prison by the state Corrections Department, and that he was "supposed to be exempt" from execution or that his death sentence had been vacated "by God, Jesus, the governor, George Bush or some combination of the same," the ruling said.