Murder Appeal

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2010

Appeals court: ‘no error’ in ‘09 murder conviction

By Billy Davis

The Mississippi Court of Appeals has upheld the 2009 murder conviction of Cody Banton, who shot and killed Shane Keel Jr. during a fight.

Banton was 17 years old when he killed Keel at the home of Banton’s father, Harvey Banton, on April 25, 2008.

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The younger Banton, now 19, testified during his two-day trial that he “tried to keep the trouble down” when he pointed a 30-06 rifle at Keel and fired a single shot.

Keel, who was 31, died on the scene from a gunshot to the stomach.

Harvey Banton, 56, is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for aggravated assault on Keel.   

On appeal, defense attorney David Walker argued that Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure erred by refusing a new trial for Cody Banton. Walker also appealed on the grounds that McClure should have overruled the jury’s guilty verdict, a ruling known as judgment not withstanding the verdict, or JNOV.  

The Court of Appeals, however, found “no error” in its review of the trial proceedings. The state court ruled that both father and son gave contradictory versions of the shootings to authorities, which jurors likely took into consideration during deliberation.

The appeals court also found that testimony from an eyewitness to the shooting, Tina Kramer, matched the physical evidence at the scene, giving her more credibility. Kramer was the girlfriend of the elder Banton.

To support his motion for a JNOV, Walker argued that Cody Banton had acted within the scope of the Castle Doctrine, a Mississippi self-defense law that allows the use of deadly force if a person fears “imminent death or great bodily harm.”

But no evidence from the trial showed Keel had come to the property to harm anyone, the state court found, ruling that “the evidence only established that Keel was on the Banton’s property, unarmed, when (Cody) Banton shot him.”

Finally, Walker argued that sentencing the teenager to life in prison represented cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. That assertion was not made with sufficient evidence and hence was not reviewed, the court ruled.

Cody Banton, under Mississippi law, is eligible for parole when he turns 65.

The Appeals Court decision was written by Judge David M. Ishee.

The Panola County jury deliberated for two hours and 18 minutes before reaching a guilty verdict.

A juror told The Panolian that Banton “was a child” but he “became a man” when he grabbed the hunting rifle and pulled the trigger.