Death row reprieve over 'dismal defence'

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The Independent US

A man in Texas convicted of murdering a 16-year-old boy has had his death sentence overturned in federal court because his lawyer did a "dismal" job of defending him.

A man in Texas convicted of murdering a 16-year-old boy has had his death sentence overturned in federal court because his lawyer did a "dismal" job of defending him.

The ruling, passed in mid-August but widely publicised only yesterday, was a rare acknowledgement of the inadequacy of counsel in many death penalty cases and once again raised questions about possible miscarriages of justice in the state governed by the Republican presidential candidate, George W Bush.

The defendant, Delma Banks, was accused of shooting Richard Whitehead to death in a remote East Texas town in 1980 while stealing his car. Although the appeal court did not cast doubt on his guilt, the judges said his lawyer failed to investigate his background or any possible mitigating circumstances. A state court can either reduce his sentence or resentence him within 120 days.

Mr Bush has come under fire for his enthusiastic endorsement of the death penalty in Texas at a time when DNA testing is casting doubt on many capital convictions in America. On Wednesday night, the 144th prisoner of his tenure as governor was put to death by lethal injection.

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