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Pa. Court Throws Out Death Sentence

November 1, 2001

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A federal appeals court has thrown out the death sentence of a man convicted of killing 13 people, ruling the jury got confusing instructions.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered prosecutors Wednesday to give George Banks a new sentencing hearing within 120 days. Otherwise, he will be sentenced to life in prison.

Banks was convicted in a shooting rampage in Wilkes-Barre on Sept. 25, 1982. Banks, who is biracial, said he killed his five children, ages 1 to 6, to save them from a racist society. The other victims were four mothers of his children and four bystanders.

The three-judge appeals panel upheld Banks’ conviction, but ruled that jury instructions wrongly implied that all had to agree on mitigating circumstances to spare Banks from death.

Under state law, a jury must unanimously find aggravating circumstances, but cannot give a death sentence if even one juror finds a mitigating circumstance.

The jury instructions were standard at the time and were probably used for at least 20 other death-row prisoners, said Matthew Lawry of the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

Prosecutor David Lupas did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Defense lawyers have argued that Banks was insane when he went on the shooting spree. The former state prison guard was once within weeks of being executed. Former Gov. Tom Ridge twice signed his death warrant.

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