By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a stay of execution for a man who was scheduled to be put to death in the evening for fatally shooting three sleeping teenagers in Amarillo in 1998.
John Balentine, 42, was to be executed by lethal injection in what would have been the fifth execution in Texas this year and the 21st in the country.
He had raised an issue about whether he has a right to be represented by a lawyer in a post-conviction state hearing challenging the effectiveness of his lawyers at trial.
"I'm happy and relieved," Balentine said after hearing news of the stay," according to Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
In January, 1998, Balentine, carrying a .32 automatic pistol, entered the home of his ex-girlfriend early one morning and shot her brother, Mark Caylor, Jr., 17, and two other boys, Kai Geyer, 15, and Steven Watson, 15, while they were sleeping, according to the Texas Attorney General's office.
Balentine previously had a criminal record in Arkansas that included burglary, kidnapping, and aggravated assault with a knife.
Balentine's execution was the first of two that had been scheduled in Texas this week. On Thursday, the state is set to execute Lee Taylor for fatally stabbing an inmate at a state prison in 1999. At the time of the stabbing, Taylor was serving a life sentence for aggravated robbery in which an elderly man died, according to the attorney general's office.
Texas has executed more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(Editing by Greg McCune)