George Emil Banks was not put to death by lethal injection yesterday evening. On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for the 62-year-old killer, a paranoid schizophrenic who used to be a tower guard at Camp Hill prison in Cumberland County before he executed 12 members of his family and an innocent bystander.
George E. Banks has been sitting on death row for 22 years. Having failed at many attempts to kill himself, he and his would-be-executioners are engaged in a clumsy minuet of murderous intent to get the job done anyway.
Tormented by his biracial identity, Banks spends his days imagining race wars and ghostly conspiracies in a cell at the State Correctional Institution Rockview, Centre County.
Lacking anything approaching sanity, he has already proven that he doesn't mind dying. He's a haunted man with the blood of his five children on his hands. If he were sane, he'd probably feel relieved to live in a state that desperately wants to kill him. As it stands, the moral clarity of the death chamber is lost on a man who doesn't know where he is.
In the few published photos of George Banks taken around the time of his trial and sentencing in 1983, he was already exuding the nonchalance of the damned. Wearing what looked like a Civil War-era forage cap, Banks had the faraway stare of a man constantly reliving his personal Antietam from the year before.
On Sept. 25, 1982, Banks was on paid leave from Camp Hill prison because of his increasingly erratic behavior. Awaking from a haze of prescription drugs and gin at his Jenkins Township home near Wilkes-Barre, Banks picked up an AR-15 semiautomatic and went hunting for his loved ones at 2 a.m.
In the house, Banks shot three girlfriends who bore him four kids between them: Susan Yuhas, 23, Dorothy Lyons, 29, and Regina Clemens, 29. He also murdered his children Forarounde, 1, Mauritania, 1, Bowendy, 4, Montanzima, 6, and Dorothy's 11-year-old daughter Nancy.
Wearing military fatigues and a shirt emblazoned with "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out," Banks ran out of the house and shot two neighbors, Ray Hall, 24, and Jimmy Olsen, 22, who were trying to flee the area. Hall died from his chest wounds.
Banks then drove to the trailer park home of former girlfriend Sharon Mazzillo, 24. He murdered her and their 5-year-old son Kissamayu as he slept. He shot Mazzillo's mother Alice, 47, and her 7-year-old nephew Scott. He also shot Sharon's brothers Angelo, 10, and Keith, 13, but they both survived.
More than 100 officers from Luzerne County's sheriff's office, the state police and Wilkes-Barre cornered him later that morning and dragged him to jail alive, refusing his request to be lynched. A jury was bused in from Pittsburgh to render the inevitable judgment.
Banks told the cops he killed his children so they wouldn't suffer the "torment" he experienced as a biracial child. Left unexplained was why he murdered their white mothers, too. True to his character, he even blamed the cops for some of the murders, despite having told his mother the morning of the killings he did all of them.
Because he testified in his own defense, there was nothing his lawyer could do. The jury deliberated for 5 1/2 hours before finding Banks guilty. It also handed down the death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled twice that the insane can't be executed and everyone agrees that George Banks checked out a long time ago. Still, I don't blame Gov. Rendell for going along with those screaming for his head. It's hard to find a more reprehensible murderer. But justice must always trump popular outrage if our system is to mean anything.
The state Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution until Banks' mental state can be definitively determined. The verdict should be based on a cool and dispassionate evaluation.
With his mind adrift in a sea of paranoia and bloody memories, George E. Banks is "dead" for all intents and purposes. Strapping him to a cross-shaped gurney so Pennsylvanians can find "closure" is tantamount to abusing a corpse. Where is the morality in that?
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