Countdown to Execution No. 300, by Bob Herbert, The New York Times, March 10, 2003

The war trumps all other issues, so insufficient attention will be paid to the planned demise of Delma Banks Jr., a 43-year-old man who is scheduled in about 48 hours to become the 300th person executed in Texas since the resumption of capital punishment in 1982.

Mr. Banks, a man with no prior criminal record, is most likely innocent of the charge that put him on death row. Fearing a tragic miscarriage of justice, three former federal judges (including William Sessions, a former director of the F.B.I.) have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to block Wednesday's execution.

So far, no one seems to be listening.

"The prosecutors in this case concealed important impeachment material from the defense," said Mr. Sessions and the other former judges, John J. Gibbons and Timothy K. Lewis, in an extraordinary friend-of-the court brief.

They said the questions raised by the Banks case "directly implicate the integrity of the administration of the death penalty in this country."

Most reasonable people would be highly disturbed to have the execution of a possibly innocent man on their conscience or their record. But this is Texas we're talking about, a state that prefers to shoot first and ask no questions at all. Fairness and justice have never found a comfortable niche in the Texas criminal justice system, and the fact that the accused might be innocent is not considered sufficient reason to call off his execution.

(One of the most demoralizing developments of the past couple of years is the fact that George W. Bush has been striving so hard to make all of the United States more like Texas.)

Delma Banks was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of 16-year-old Richard Whitehead, who was shot to death in 1980 in a town called Nash, not far from Texarkana. There was little chance that this would have been a capital case if both the accused and the victim had been of the same race. Or if the accused had been white and the victim black.

But Mr. Banks is black and Mr. Whitehead was white, and that's the jackpot combination when it comes to the death penalty. Blacks convicted of killing whites are the ones most likely to end up in the execution chamber. In Texas this principle has been reinforced for years by the ruthless exclusion of jurors who are black.

Just two weeks ago the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that criticized courts in Texas for ignoring evidence of racial bias in a death penalty case. Lawyers in the case noted that up until the mid-1970's prosecutors in Dallas actually had a manual that said, "Do not take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or well-educated."

The significant evidence against Mr. Banks was the testimony of two hard-core drug addicts. One was a paid informant. The other was a career felon facing a long prison term who was told that a pending arson charge would be dismissed if he performed "well" while testifying against Mr. Banks.

The prosecution deliberately suppressed information about its arrangements with these witnesses information that it was obliged by law to turn over to the defense.

And prosecutors made sure that all the jurors at Mr. Banks's trial were white. That was routine. Lawyers handling Mr. Banks's appeal have shown that from 1975 through 1980 prosecutors in Bowie County, where Mr. Banks was tried, accepted more than 80 percent of qualified white jurors in felony cases, while peremptorily removing more than 90 percent of qualified black jurors.

The strongest evidence pointing to Mr. Banks's innocence was physical. He was in Dallas, more than three hours away from Texarkana, when Mr. Whitehead was killed, according to the best estimates of the time of death, based on the autopsy results.

Prosecutorial misconduct. Racial bias. Drug-addicted informants. "This is one-stop shopping for what's wrong with the administration of the death penalty," said George Kendall, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund who is handling Mr. Banks's appeal.

If, despite all that is known about this case, the authorities walk Mr. Banks into the execution chamber on Wednesday, and strap him to a gurney, and inject the lethal poison into his veins, we will be taking another Texas-sized step away from a reasonably fair and just society, and back toward the state-sanctioned barbarism we should be trying to flee.