2010-05-06 / Local & State

Witnesses Spar On Legality Of Executing Pa. Man

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) – A northeastern Pennsylvania judge must now decide whether a man can be legally put to death for the murders of 13 people almost three decades ago.

Luzerne County Court Judge Joseph Augello said Friday he will make a ruling “in due course’’ on whether George Banks is competent, which would allow his execution.

Banks, 67, was sentenced to death for the September 1982 murders of 13 people, 11 of them his own family members and five his own children, in Wilkes-Barre and Jenkins Township.

Defense attorneys argue that he is psychotic and unable to comprehend his sentence or participate in his defense, making him incompetent to be put to death. But prosecutors argue that Banks comprehends the reason for his death sentence and thus meets the legal standard for execution.

Prosecutors on Friday called psychiatrist Timothy Michals, who said he believes Banks’ mental health has improved. He said he had interviewed Banks in 2005, in 2008 and in March, and over that time there has been a “dramatic change’’ in his mental health.

Last month, he said, Banks was cooperative, gave direct answers, and seemed less agitated and less paranoid. Michals said Banks knew about his conviction and death sentence and the purpose of the psychiatrist’s visit, although he maintained that he had not killed two of the victims and believed police had committed those murders.

Michals said Banks is capable of rational thought and his psychotic delusions are “defense mechanisms’’ to deal with unpleasant thoughts, but his mental illness did not affect his competency to be executed.

Psychologist John O’Brien, testifying for the defense, disagreed and said it was impossible for Banks to be both psychotic and rational. O’Brien, who has examined Banks before each of his three competency hearings, said Banks’ delusions affect every part of his thinking.

“There are a lot of balls bouncing around and when you hit the stop button and one ball comes out, it does not mean the delusions aren’t there,’’ he said.

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