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George Emil Banks
June 22, 1942
|Criminal penalty||Sentenced to death|
|Date||September 25, 1982|
|Location(s)||Wilkes-Barre and Jenkins Township, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Weapons||Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle|
George Emil Banks (born June 22, 1942) is an American spree killer. A former Camp Hill prison guard, he shot 13 people to death on September 25, 1982 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and Jenkins Township, including seven children - five being his own - their mothers, some of their relatives, and one bystander. His attorneys argued for the insanity defense, but Banks was convicted of charges including 12 counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
On November 29, 1990, the Pennsylvania State Legislature barred further use of the electric chair amid debate that electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment; it approved execution by lethal injection. Banks's case was appealed and, on December 2, 2004, he received a stay of execution following a determination that he was incompetent for execution. On May 12, 2010, Banks was again declared incompetent to be executed, following a competency hearing held the previous month.
Early life and education
George Emil Banks was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to John Mack, who was black, and Mary Yelland, who is white. His parents were not married. According to his attorneys at his later trial, he suffered severely from racism while he was growing up because of being mixed race.
In 1961 at the age of 19, after being discharged from the Army, Banks and some accomplices robbed a tavern, shooting and injuring the unarmed owner. He was sentenced to six to fifteen years in prison, which was extended when he briefly escaped in 1964; however, he was granted parole in 1969 and his sentence was commuted by then Governor Milton Shapp in 1974.
After his release, he married Doris M. Banks, who is black, on August 23, 1969. They had two daughters together. The couple divorced in 1976.
As noted by his attorney during his trial, Banks seemed to have been deeply affected by racial issues. After his divorce, he dated white women. By September 1982 he had broken up with girlfriend Sharon Mazillo, who had lived with him at one time, and they were disputing custody of their young son. He was living with three women in his house; they were mothers of four of his children, and one had another daughter living with her.
Despite his criminal record for an armed offense, Banks had started working as a prison guard at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, in 1980. In 1982 Banks had told coworkers at the prison that "the world would soon be consumed by a race war" and said he wanted "to prevent the five children he fathered with the four white girlfriends from [experiencing] the torment and agony of racism." He was put on "an extended leave of absence" the first week in September 1982 after a conflict with a supervisor and threatening suicide. The prison ordered Banks to be examined for mental health issues at a Harrisburg-area hospital.
On the night of September 24, 1982, Banks drank quantities of straight gin and took prescription drugs at his home on Schoolhouse Lane in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The next morning on September 25, 1982, he used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to kill eight people in his house, including three women in their 20s (all girlfriends and mothers of his children) and five children, four of them his. Two of the women were sisters. Banks dressed in military fatigues and went outside, where he saw 22-year-old Jimmy Olsen and 24-year-old Ray Hall, Jr, who were leaving a house across the street. He shot at them both, reportedly yelling that they "would not tell anyone about this," before he fired. He hit both men, fatally wounding Hall; Olsen survived. Banks drove away.
Banks went to Heather Highlands mobile home park, where his former girlfriend Sharon Mazzillo and their son Kissamayu lived, of whom he had been trying to gain custody. Banks forced his way in and shot Mazzillo. He next shot and killed his sleeping son. Banks killed Sharon’s mother, who was trying to call police, and Sharon's 7-year-old nephew, who were also in the home. Hiding in the closet was Sharon’s brother, whom Banks did not see. He was the only survivor and called police, identifying Banks as the shooter.
When police examined the victims at the mobile home park, they made the connection to the shooting of Olsen and Hall, who had been discovered at Schoolhouse Lane. They next found Banks's victims in his house. Police began to search for Banks, who abandoned his car and carjacked another vehicle. He abandoned that vehicle and drove around, stopping in an isolated area. He lay down in a grassy area and fell asleep.
After Banks awoke, he visited his mother’s house, also in Wilkes-Barre. He was said to confess to her. She called his home to check on his children and reached police there, who tried to keep Banks on the phone. He hung up, got more ammunition, and went to a vacated rental house.
A standoff between Banks and police began. The police brought his mother to their base to talk with him. They tried various tactics to get Banks to surrender, including having a false news report played over WILK radio saying that the children were alive and needed blood to survive. The police tried to draw Banks out of the house. Finally, Robert Brunson, a former co-worker of Banks, was able to talk him out. It took 4 hours for the standoff to end. As of September 30, 1982, Banks was charged with 8 counts of murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, stealing a car, robbery, and theft. He was held without bail.
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- At Schoolhouse Lane
- Regina Clemens (29) - Girlfriend of George Banks.
- Montanzima Banks (6) - Daughter of Clemens and Banks.
- Susan Yuhas (23) - Girlfriend of Banks, sister of Regina Clemens.
- Boende Banks (4) - Son of Yuhas and Banks.
- Mauritania Banks (20 months) - Daughter of Yuhas and Banks.
- Dorothy Lyons (29) - Girlfriend of George Banks.
- Nancy Lyons (11) - Daughter of Dorothy Lyons.
- Foraroude Banks (1) - Son of Dorothy Lyons and George Banks.
- Raymond F. Hall, Jr. (24) - Bystander shot across from Banks' house on Schoolhouse Lane.
- At Heather Highlands mobile home
- Sharon Mazzillo (24) - Former girlfriend.
- Kissmayu Banks (5) - Son of Sharon Mazzillo and George Banks.
- Scott Mazzillo (7) - Nephew of Sharon Mazzillo.
- Alice Mazzillo (47) - Sharon Mazzillo's mother.
- James Olsen (22) - Bystander, shot on Schoolhouse Lane.
On June 6, 1983, Bank's trial began at the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Banks insisted on testifying. He said that he had only wounded some of the victims and police had killed them. Several scene witnesses, Banks family members, and Olsen testified. Olsen identified Banks as the person who shot him and left him for dead. Closing arguments took place on June 21, 1983. Banks's attorney argued that he was insane, but the jury found Banks guilty of 12 counts of first-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, and one count each of robbery, theft, and endangering the life of another person. On June 22, 1983, the jury recommended the death penalty.
Banks was incarcerated in the maximum-security unit at Huntingdon until November 1985. His appeals reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but it refused to overturn his verdict. He was then sent to the Correctional Institute at Graterford, where he was housed in a contained housing unit.
From 1987 to 2000, Banks's attorneys continued to appeal his case. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his attorneys' argument that he lacked the mental competency to be executed. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge twice signed a death warrant for Banks; however, both times federal appellate courts have stayed his execution.
In 2001, 2006, and 2008 the court held hearings about the mental state of Banks in order to determine if he could be executed. He exhibited delusional behavior that caused the court to rule him incompetent for execution. During this period, various appeals were being heard by state and federal courts. In 2010, another hearing was held on his competency; his attorney said his mental state had deteriorated significantly since 1982. Judge Joseph M. Augello ruled that Banks was mentally incompetent for execution or to assist his attorneys in seeking clemency. He would continue to be held in a restricted housing unit at Graterford prison. As of September 2017 he was still on death row in Pennsylvania. He was later transferred to SCI-Phoenix in May 2018.
|September 1982||George Banks is relieved of duty as a Camp Hill State Prison guard. He is evaluated for mental-health issues.|
|September 25, 1982||Banks kills 13 people, including four present or former girlfriends, seven children, and two other adults, at two homes in Wilkes-Barre and its suburbs.|
|March 1983||A three-day hearing results in Banks's being ruled mentally competent to stand trial.|
|June 1983||Trial testimony begins in Pittsburgh. Banks testifies, saying police killed as many as nine of the victims. He is found guilty of killing 13 people, wounding a 14th, and other offenses. He receives 12 death sentences and one life sentence.|
|November 1985||After Banks's county-level appeals are exhausted, a judge formally imposes the death penalties.|
|February 1987||State Supreme Court upholds his verdicts on appeal.|
|October 1987||U.S. Supreme Court declines to take up the case.|
|February 1996||Gov. Tom Ridge signs Banks's death warrant. Banks later receives a stay of execution.|
|August 1997||An appeal is argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.|
|March 1999||Ridge signs another death warrant for Banks, and a federal judge issues another stay.|
|October 2001||The Third Circuit reverses the death sentences based on the wording of jury instructions.|
|May 2002||After Banks refuses to eat and drink, prison officials obtain a court order to force-feed him to ensure his survival.|
|June 2002||U.S. Supreme Court remands the case back to the Third Circuit, which later upholds its previous ruling in Banks's favor. The case is sent back the U.S. Supreme Court.|
|June 2004||U.S. Supreme Court rules against Banks, upholding his sentence.|
|October 2004||Gov. Rendell signs Banks's death warrant.|
|December 1, 2004||State Supreme Court halts the execution and orders a county judge to determine whether Banks is mentally competent.|
Determined incompetent for execution
During appeals of his case, Banks was examined more than once in competency hearings by the court to determine if he was competent for execution, and he has been found mentally incompetent on three occasions. In 2006 psychiatrists testified that he was "psychotic, delusional and irrational." In May 2010 a Pennsylvania court held a new hearing and determined that Banks was mentally incompetent for execution or to assist his attorney in a clemency appeal. As of September 2017, he continued to be held in a restricted housing unit at Graterford prison.
- List of death row inmates in the United States
- List of rampage killers
- Gun violence in the United States
- Mass shootings in the United States
- Brennan, Allison (December 20, 2012). "The list: Despite emotions, little happens legislatively after mass shootings". CNN. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
- Robbins, William (September 26, 1982). "Gunman Kills 13 in a Pennsylvania Rampage". New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
- Michael R. Sisak (Staff Writer). "Judge: Banks incompetent, can't be executed". The Times-Tribune. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
- Associated Press, "Decades on death row: Now delusional, George Banks killed 13 people, including 5 of his children in 1982", PennLive, 29 September 2017, accessed 16 October 2015.
- "35 years later, mass murderer George Banks remains on death row | Times Leader". Times Leader. 2017-09-24. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
- "Banks named in 8 more murder indictments". The Reading Eagle. Associated Press. 30 September 1982. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
- "Pennsylvania man who killed his family is ruled incompetent for execution". PennLive.com. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
- Worden, Amy. "Execution of killer is halted; The state's high court ordered a competency hearing for the man who killed 13 in 1982". Philly.Com. Retrieved 2011-03-26. (subscription required)
- Emilie Lounsberry, "Mass murderer judged unfit for execution; George E. Banks, who killed 13 people in 1982, is "a very mentally sick man," the judge said.", Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 February 2006