Hank Skinner

Skinner transcripts received by attorneys


April 11, 2014

Defense attorneys requesting extension to 21-day deadline.

Attorneys with the state Attorney General’s Office and convicted murderer Hank Skinner’s defense team say they have received copies of the court transcripts from Skinner’s evidentiary hearing in Gray County on Feb. 3 and 4.

Receipt of the transcripts triggers a 21-day period for attorneys to file their findings from the witness testimony back to the 31st District Court.

Lauren Been, a spokeswoman for the AG’s Office, said both sides are required to respond.

Skinner, who is on death row for the brutal murders of Pampa resident Twila Busby and her two adult sons on New Year’s Day 1993, is being represented by attorneys Douglas Robinson and Robert Owen. If District Judge Steven Emmert rules favorably for Skinner, his attorneys could seek an appeal.

Emmert does not have a deadline to file his decision, but his bailiff, Wayne Carter, said the judge wants to move along quickly with the case.

A spokeswoman from Robinson and Owen’s office in Washington D.C. said Thursday they are waiting for a few exhibits from the court and are requesting the court to extend the filing deadline to May 30.

Skinner was not at the hearing in which both sides presented evidence from a series of recent DNA tests.

PAMPA-TX -Testimony ends in Hank Skinner’s DNA hearing


february 5, 2014

PAMPA — A Texas Department of Public Safety expert testified Tuesday that genetic material found on a knife at the scene of a 1993 triple homicide was consistent with Hank Skinner’s DNA profile, but the death row inmate’s defense team maintains that another man killed the family.

Georgette Oden, an assistant attorney general, quizzed DPS expert Brent Hester about a battery of DNA testing results during an evidentiary hearing at the Gray County courthouse.

Testimony ended Tuesday in the two-day hearing, but attorneys for both sides are expected to submit further briefs to District Judge Steven Emmert after court transcripts are completed.

The hearing focused on whether it is “reasonably probable” that Skinner, now 51, would have been acquitted if all DNA evidence in the case had been presented at his 1995 trial, according to court records.

Skinner was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in the slayings of Twila Jean Busby, 40, and her sons — 22- year-old Elwin “Scooter” Caler and 20-year-old Randy Busby.

Skinner has claimed he was too intoxicated to have slain the Busbys because he drank vodka and took codeine on the night of the killings.

After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Skinner’s execution three times due to changing post-conviction law, prosecutors agreed to allow DNA testing, and both sides now have received the results.

Hester, a DPS analyst from the Lubbock crime lab, testified Tuesday that genetic material recovered from the blade of a knife found on the front porch of the victims’ home could be linked to Skinner. Forensic tests on the knife blade, he said, proved the presence of blood on the weapon, and the material found on the knife contained DNA traces from Skinner, Caler and Busby.

“We do not say it was that person’s DNA,” Hester said of how DPS interprets DNA results recovered from a crime scene. “They are not consistent solely with him, but they are consistent with him being a possible contributor.”

Hester also testified that some DNA recovered from the crime scene was contaminated with his DNA and that of a former court reporter who handled evidence in the case. The longtime forensic scientist also testified that some genetic material recovered from a carpet stain, door handles in the home and a door frame could be tied to Skinner.

Hester also said DNA from an unknown individual also was located in the carpet stain, which was in a bedroom where the two male victims were found. Hester said that genetic material could have been deposited when the carpet was originally laid and could have come from nearly anyone who visited the Busby home at 804 E. Campbell St. in Pampa.

Robert Owen, Skinner’s attorney, said after the hearing that testimony showed minute traces of DNA from an unknown person and Twila Busby’s blood had been found on a dish towel that had been left in a plastic bag at the crime scene.

Owen also said the prosecution has claimed that Skinner stabbed Randy Busby in the back while he lay on his bunk bed, but Owen said testimony presented during the hearing casts doubt on the state’s theory.

“If Mr. Skinner stabbed Randy Busby in the manner claimed by the state, Mr. Skinner’s blood should have been on the blanket of Randy’s bed. It was not. If Mr. Skinner’s hands were covered with the victims’ blood when he staggered out of the house, their blood should have been mixed with his on the doorknobs he touched. It was not,” Owen said in a statement.

Owen said a state expert’s testimony also indicated that three of four hairs found in Twila Busby’s hand — hairs the defense said contain DNA consistent with a maternal relative of the victims — were “visually dissimilar” to the victim’s own hair. That testimony, he said, supports the defense team’s conclusion that Robert Donnell, Twila Busby’s now-deceased uncle, killed the Pampa family.

“The state presented no compelling evidence that the hairs could have come from another maternal relative. In fact, Ms. Busby’s mother stated under oath before Mr. Skinner’s trial that she had not been inside the house in the preceding four months,” Owen said in a statement.

Owen also said he was disappointed that Emmert did not allow testimony from a key witness about a jacket found at the crime scene. The witness was prepared to testify the now-missing jacket belonged to Donnell.

“At the DNA hearing, Mr. Skinner sought to present testimony from a witness who can positively identify the jacket as Donnell’s, and to have his DNA expert explain how testing could have confirmed Donnell’s DNA on the jacket,” Owen said in a statement. “We respectfully disagree with this decision. In our view, this evidence is at the center of the case. It shows why a jury that heard all the evidence, including DNA results, would have harbored a reasonable doubt about Mr. Skinner’s guilt.”

Owen also noted that much of the DNA evidence gathered in the case was mishandled, contaminated or lost.

Owen indicated in his statement that “doubts about Hank Skinner’s guilt are far too great to allow his execution to proceed, particularly where the state’s utter failure to safeguard key pieces of evidence may make it impossible to resolve those questions conclusively.”

(Source: Amarillo Globe News)

TEXAS -Day two of death row inmate Hank Skinner’s evidentiary hearing


february 4. 2014

Texas: Assistant attorney general tears down Skinner defense witness

During cross examination of defense witness Dr. Julie Heinig, PhD, a DNA expert from Cincinnati, Ohio, Georgette Oden, an assistant state attorney general, began a systematic dismantling of Heinig’s credentials as an expert witness.

Oden began by pointing out inconsistencies in Heinig’s education, and the witness’ lack of complete training with DNA evidence testing.

As an example, Oden brought out that of the 10 publications written by Heinig for her PhD., five were about lamprey eel research and two were in DNA fingerprint analysis.

Oden then asked if it’s true that Heinig’s employer, DNA Diagnostics Center, does DNA testing for the “Maury Povich Show,” a tabloid television talk show also based in Cincinnati. The lab is often called upon to perform DNA testing in child custody cases that are aired on the TV show.

Heinig answered yes, and Oden countered with, “Then it’s true that your employer’s DNA testing regimens do not follow the standard procedure of the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s crime lab?”

Heinig again answered yes.

Cross examination by Oden then delved into the defense’s contention that many of the blood samples taken were not conclusive for Hank Skinner’s DNA.

In her questioning, Oden asked Heinig if there were any samples of mixed blood that could have excluded Skinner from the crime scene. DNA testing done by the state proved it was inclusive on whether Skinner’s DNA was in those blood samples.

Heining agreed that the tests did not exclude Skinner from the crime scene.

Four hairs were found on Twila Busby’s hand at the crime scene but were not tested. Busby and her two sons were the victims in the brutal triple homicide on Dec. 31, 1993. Skinner was Busby’s live-in boyfriend.

The defense had earlier questioned why the hairs weren’t tested.

The state then brought as its witness John Lan Bundy, a former trace analyst for the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Lubbock, whose responsibility at the time was identifying the hairs found on Busby’s hand.

Bundy testified that of those four hairs, one was an animal hair and the other three were not sufficient for laboratory testing because they weren’t attached to their roots.

DNA cannot be taken from a hair unless it has a root and there are obvious differences between human hair and animal hair, he said.

At that point, the state passed the witness to the defense, who chose not to cross examine Bundy.

The hearing recessed shortly after 5 p.m. and will reconvene at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Pampa, TX – Day two has just come to a close after some 6 hours of discussion, both the state and Hank Skinner’s defense team have rested their cases.

What happens next, is both sides will submit a proposed fining report, basically explaining to the judge why they think he should side with them. After court transcripts are filed, the state and the defense team have 21 days to make those reports. After three weeks, the judge will make a decision.

No official decision has been made regarding death row inmate Hank Skinner. Over the last two days, his defense team tried to create reasonable doubt surrounding evidence that was collected from the 1993 crime scene. The state says DNA points to Skinner as the killer of Twila Busby and her two sons.

(Source: NewsChannel 10)

Pampa : DNA hearing set in case of Texas death row inmate – Hank Skinner


february 3, 2014 (AP)

PAMPA, TX — A hearing is set regarding recent DNA testing in the case of a Texas death row inmate convicted of a triple slaying in the Panhandle.

Attorneys for the state and Hank Skinner’s attorneys will present testimony during the two-day hearing set to begin Monday in Pampa.

Skinner’s attorneys hope to show he didn’t kill a woman and her two sons in 1993. The 52-year-old was convicted of capital murder in 1995.

Court documents filed by the state say results of DNA testing done at a law enforcement lab “further confirm” Skinner’s guilt. Skinner’s attorneys say more sophisticated test results from an independent lab make doubts about his guilt “too weighty” to allow his execution.

Each side will submit written arguments after the hearing. The judge will later release his findings.

Defense lawyers: Skinner won’t appear in Pampa


31.01.2014

Hank Skinner, the Texas death-row inmate convicted of murdering his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her sons, Randy and Elwin “Scooter” Caler, will not be attending an evidentiary hearing scheduled in Pampa Monday and Tuesday.

An employee who works for Skinner’s defense attorneys, Douglas Robinson and Robert Owen, told The Pampa News that both the state and defense attorneys will offer witnesses and other evidence, such as laboratory reports, to show what results were produced by the DNA testing that has been performed in Skinner’s case over the past 18 months. The attorneys will try to argue about what inferences can be drawn from those test results, she said.

A series of tests on DNA taken from the crime scene have been performed since June 2012, two by a Texas Department of Safety crime lab in Lubbock and one by an independent laboratory in Virginia.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office, who is presenting the state’s case to the court, claims the DNA tests overwhelmingly show that evidence collected at the crime scene consistently shows that Skinner is guilty of strangling and bludgeoning Busby in the living room of her home on New Year’s Eve 1993.

The defense attorneys claim the DNA tests performed at the Virginia lab point to Robert Donnell, Twila Busby’s deceased uncle, as the real killer in the triple homicide. The attorneys say it is well known that Donnell was making unwelcome advances to Busby on the night she was killed.

Judge Steven R. Emmert of the 31st District will not issue a definitive ruling at the conclusion of the hearing, the employee said.

Instead, the parties will have an opportunity to submit written arguments in late February, and the judge will issue a definitive ruling after considering those arguments.

A ruling in Skinner’s favor in this proceeding would not automatically reverse his conviction.

(Source: The Pampa News) #deathpenalty #hankskinner

Texas death row inmate awaits final judgement – Hank Skinner


June 23, 2013 http://www.france24.com

Hank Skinner escaped execution in 2010 by only 20 minutes after a dramatic 11th-hour reprieve. He now regards this as a miracle.

The 51-year-old, who was convicted in 1995 of the brutal triple murder of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons, has protested his innocence for years, despite DNA evidence against him.

Haunted by the possibility of execution, the wait has taken a mental toll, says Skinner, who admits that in one sense, death may come as a relief.

“Living under the sentence of death is never off, it’s always on your mind. It’s always sitting on your chest, it’s always on your shoulders and they’re killing people about once a week. It’s so heavy because there’s a pall of death over this place,” he told AFP in an interview.

He tries to paint a picture for outsiders: “If someone kidnaps you and takes you down to the basement and they have jail cells there, six of them. There are six people here and every morning they come down with a gun with six bullets. They point it at you and you hear somebody die right next to you”.

“The first 10 times it happens, you think you’d be glad it’s not you, but after so many times, watching it happen to somebody else, you’d be praying the gun would go off on you.”

Texas prosecutors argue that recently re-examined DNA evidence taken from the crime scene proves Skinner’s guilt.

They point to a knife found caked with his blood, and blood spattering on the walls of a room where two of the killings took place.

Skinner’s legal team counter by insisting the DNA evidence paints only a partial picture of the scene, that Skinner was injured and that questions remain about the disappearance of a bloody jacket worn by Busby’s late uncle.

Skinner points out that the first round of tests showed the presence of a third person’s DNA at the scene whose name has not been determined.

As things stand, barring another twist to his case, Prisoner Number 999-143 is still on death row, at the Polunsky Unit jail in Texas.

But Skinner said he has not given up hope of a final reprieve.

And while he insists he is innocent, he is adamant that even the guilty among his fellow death-row inmates deserve pity.

“I’ve been here 20 years now and they have killed 400 people since I’ve been here,” he says into a telephone sitting behind a reinforced glass divide. The 500th execution is scheduled for Wednesday in nearby Huntsville.

“People don’t realize, they say ‘Oh these guys are monsters’ or whatever. They’re not, they’re just regular people just like me”.

“You walk in the normal world you’d find the same people you find here, they’re just people who made terrible awful mistakes but they can’t be judged by the single worst thing they’ve done in their life.”

During his incarceration, Skinner has married a French wife, the militant anti-death penalty activist Sandrine Ageorges, who regularly visits him.

Skinner longs for a day when he can taste freedom and take Ageorges in his arms.

“The girlfriend that was killed she was the woman of my dreams,” says Skinner. “I have the same thing for Sandrine. You’ve seen love at the first sight, that’s pretty much what it was.

“I definitely see her as my second chance, we think so much alike, it’s amazing. We got married by proxy … when I get out of here we’re gonna have another marriage ceremony where I can be there and I can really kiss her.”

Despite the looming veil of execution, Skinner says he retains a lust for life. “I am a big party person, I like to make love, I like to have a good time, I like to laugh, to tell jokes,” he says.

He regards his 2010 reprieve, when the US Supreme Court stayed his execution in order to consider the question of whether DNA tests not requested by his trial lawyer could be carried out, as a “miracle.”

He vividly recalls his last meal, the journey to the execution chamber, and the realization that he had been spared.

“When they took me over there to kill me … they brought my last meal.

“I ate it all, the whole time I could look right up in bars through this door and there’s the gurney and the microphone hanging there and the witness window. Literally looking at death”.

“Getting in a bus to go to a place you’ve never been, like a different planet. The unknown, I’ve never died before. I don’t know what it’s like. But I know it’s permanent,” he laughs.

“My head was buzzing, and I dropped the phone. I couldn’t hear anything, I thought I was floating. I couldn’t believe it,” he said of the moment when he realized he had escaped execution by a matter of minutes.

Although he holds out hope of winning his freedom, Skinner has revealed the last words he then had thought of: “Before this body is even cold, I will walk again.”

Texas AG: New tests don’t clear death row inmate – HANK SKINNER


November 14, 2012

New DNA testing in the case of a Texas Panhandle man on death row for a New Year’s Eve triple-slaying doesn’t support an alternate theory of the crime, the state attorney general’s office said Wednesday.

Hank Skinner once came within an hour of execution for the 1993 killings of girlfriend Twila Busby and her two grown sons in Pampa, about 50 miles northeast of Amarillo. Now 50, Skinner’s execution has been stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Both his attorney and prosecutors agreed in June to new DNA testing of evidence.

The attorney general’s office filed a court advisory Wednesday that says new testing “does not support Skinner’s claim that an alternative suspect is the real killer.”

Skinner has argued he wasn’t the killer because he was passed out on a couch from a mix of vodka and codeine. The AG’s advisory says traces of Skinner’s DNA were located in blood in the bedroom where one of Busby’s sons, Randy Busby, was found stabbed to death. Prosecutors said his DNA also was matched to blood stains throughout the house.

Skinner attorney Rob Owen objected to Wednesday’s advisory, calling its findings premature. In a statement, Owen said it was “troubling” that the AG’s office submitted a report while testing was still ongoing. The AG’s office says both sides are discussing whether to conduct more tests.

We will remain unable to draw any strong conclusions about whether the DNA testing has resolved the stubborn questions about Hank Skinner’s guilt or innocence until additional DNA testing has been completed, and the data underlying that DNA testing has been made available to our experts for a detailed review,” Owen said in the statement.

While Skinner’s DNA was found on the handle of a bloody knife on Twila Busby’s front porch, Owen said the handle also had genetic material from two other people: Busby’s other slain son, Elwin Caler, and a third person other than Skinner or the victims. Owen said an unknown person’s DNA also was found on the carpet of the sons’ bedroom.

Skinner has acknowledged he argued with Busby on the night she was killed and that he was inside the house where the victim’s bodies were found. He was found about three hours after the bodies were discovered, hiding in a closet at the home of a woman he knew. Blood from at least two of the victims was found on him.

The attorney general’s office had argued against DNA testing, which Skinner’s trial attorneys did not request, but changed course. The state agreed to allow testing of a list of 40 items, though not a windbreaker jacket Skinner’s advocates consider crucial to establishing an alternate suspect’s guilt.

TEXAS – Agreement on DNA testing in Skinner case, but “key” evidence missing


June 13, source : http://www.chron.com

Hank Skinner.Hank Skinner

DNA testing of evidence in the Henry Skinner triple murder case hit yet another snag this week as prosecutors admitted that a blood-stained windbreaker – termed “perhaps the key piece of evidence” by the killer’s lawyer – cannot be found.

In a motion laying out terms of a joint agreement to begin testing filed late Tuesday, the state and Skinner attorney Rob Owen identify 40 items to be submitted for testing. Among them are clippings from a victim’s fingernails, vaginal swabs, and knives found at the scene of the 1993 New Year’s Eve Pampa murder.

Skinner, 50, was convicted of fatally bludgeoning his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and stabbing to death her two adult sons. He consistently has maintained his innocence, saying that consumption of codeine and alcohol had rendered him incapable of killing the victims.

Prosecutors in Tuesday’s filing concede that the windbreaker, collected from the scene by the Pampa Police Department, has not been found.

“According to the state, every other single piece of evidence in this case has been preserved,” Owen said in an email. “It is difficult to understand how the state has managed to maintain custody of items as small as fingernail clippings while apparently losing something as large as a man’s windbreaker jacket. To date, the state has offered no explanation for its failure to safeguard evidence in this case.”

A spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office declined immediate comment.

Owen said the jacket, which appears to be stained with perspiration and blood, may have been worn by the assailant. Owen said that, since the trial, a witness has identified the jacket as one worn by Busby’s uncle.

That man, now dead, reportedly was seen stalking Busby at a party shortly before her murder.

Skinner has had at least two execution dates set. Last November, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay to ascertain how revised laws regarding such testing may apply to his case.

Skinner has endeavored for more than a decade to obtain DNA testing of seemingly important evidence gathered at the crime scene.

Once a Gray County district court approves the proposed joint order, agencies or entities possessing items to be tested will have five days to send them to the Texas Department of Public Safety laboratory in Austin.

TEXAS – State Backs DNA Testing for Hank Skinner


June 1, 2012 Source :http://www.texastribune.org

Reversing its decade-long objection to testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence, the Texas Attorney General’s office today filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking to test DNA in the case. 

“Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state,” lawyers for the state wrote in the advisory.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

Rob Owen, co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic, said he was pleased the state “finally appears willing to work with us to make that testing a reality.”

The details of the testing, he said, will still need to be arranged to ensure the evidence is properly handled and identified.

“Texans expect accuracy in this death penalty case, and the procedures to be employed must ensure their confidence in the outcome,” he said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to cooperating with the State to achieve this DNA testing as promptly as possible.”

State lawyers have opposed testing in the case, arguing that it could not prove Skinner’s innocence and that it would create an incentive for other guilty inmates to delay justice by seeking DNA testing. Today, though, the state reversed its course and has prepared a joint order to allow the tests.

Since 2000, Skinner has asked the courts to allow testing on crime scene evidence that was not analyzed at his original trial, including a rape kit, biological material from Busby’s fingernails, sweat and hair from a man’s jacket, a bloody towel and knives. Owen told the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last month that if DNA testing on all the evidence points to an individual who is not Skinner, it could create reasonable doubt about his client’s guilt. 

The advisory comes a month after that hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in which the judges on the nine-member panel grilled attorneys for the state about their continued resistance to the testing even after a spate of DNA exonerations in Texas. In Texas, at least 45 inmates have been exonerated based on DNA evidence.

“You really ought to be absolutely sure before you strap a person down and kill him,” Judge Michael Keasler said at the May hearing.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, praised the Texas Attorney General’s move on Friday. Legislators last year approved a bill that Ellis wrote amending the state’s post-conviction DNA testing law to allow for such analysis in cases like Skinner’s. Under the measure, inmates can obtain testing even in instances where they had the chance to test the DNA at trial but did not do so and in cases where the DNA was tested previously but new technology allows for more advanced testing.

In Skinner’s case the state had long argued that he should not be allowed to test the DNA evidence because he had the opportunity to do so at his trial but chose not to. He sought testing again after the DNA measure was approved last year.

“Now we will have certainty in the Skinner case because we will have analyzed all the evidence,” Ellis said in a statement. “There should be no lingering questions in capital cases.”

TEXAS – Top Criminal Court to Hear Hank Skinner’s DNA Plea (at 9 a.m)


Update  may 2 2012  Source : http://www.texastribune.org

Sensitive to dozens of DNA exonerations in recent years, judges on the nine-member Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today grilled the Texas solicitor general about what harm could be done by granting death row inmate Hank Skinner‘s decade-old request for biological analysis of crime scene evidence.

“You really tought to be absolutely sure before you strap a person down and kill him,” Judge Michael Keasler said.

Oral arguments in the hearing wrapped up today. It could take weeks or months for the court to render a decision on whether to allow DNA testing in the case.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

For more than a decade, Skinner has asked the courts to allow testing on crime scene evidence that was not analyzed at his original trial, including a rape kit, biological material from Busby’s fingernails, sweat and hair from a man’s jacket, a bloody towel and knives. His lawyer, Rob Owen, co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic, told the court that if DNA testing on all the evidence points to an individual who is not Skinner, then it could create reasonable doubt about his client’s guilt.

“It changes the picture,” Owen said. “Having the DNA evidence makes the jurors look at other pieces of evidence differently, because I think jurors are inclined to accept DNA evidence as reliable.”

Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell told the court that there is such “overwhelming evidence” of Skinner’s “actual guilt” that DNA testing could not undermine the conviction. Mitchell argued that Skinner had his chance to test the evidence at his trial, but he chose not to. Skinner is now using the fight for DNA analysis as a frivolous attempt to delay his inevitable execution, Mitchell added. Allowing Skinner testing at this late point in the process, Mitchell said, would set a dangerously expensive precedent for guilty inmates. In future cases, he said, prosecutors would feel obligated to test every shred of evidence to prevent a guilty defendant from delaying his sentence by requesting additional DNA results.

“Prosecutors will have to test everything, no matter what the cost,” Mitchell told the court.

“Prosecutors should be testing everything anyway,” Keasler said.

The Court of Criminal Appeals has previously denied Skinner’s requests, citing restrictions in the state’s 2001 post-conviction DNA testing law that have since been repealed. Most recently, during the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers repealed part of the law that allowed DNA testing only in cases where analysis was not done during the original trial because the technology did not exist or for some other reason that was not the fault of the defendant.

The court of appeals stayed Skinner’s Nov. 9 execution date so they could determine how the change to the law should apply to his case.

The tough questions for the state today came as something of a surprise from the court, which typically favors prosecutors.

Mitchell told the court that legislators did not intend to allow defendants like Skinner to reject testing at their original trial but then use it later to delay their executions.

Read the full article : click here 

May 2, 2012 Source http://www.texastribune.org

Death row inmate Hank Skinner’s decade-long fight for DNA testing, which he hopes will prove his innocence in a grisly West Texas triple murder, will take center stage this morning in the state’s highest criminal court.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

A decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals could take weeks or months.

For more than a decade, Skinner has asked the courts to allow testing on a slew of evidence that was not analyzed at his original trial: a rape kit, biological material from Busby’s fingernails, sweat from a man’s jacket, a bloody towel and knives from the crime scene.

Lawyers in the Texas attorney general’s office argue that Skinner is only trying to put off his inevitable execution and that the evidence of his guilt is so overwhelming that DNA testing is unwarranted. But Rob Owen, one of Skinner’s lawyers and the co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic, said he is hopeful the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will finally allow the testing.

“The facts of Mr. Skinner’s case bear some of the hallmarks of wrongful conviction cases from around the country,” Owen said. “For all these reasons, none of the state’s arguments diminish the urgent need for DNA testing in his case.”

The appeals court has denied Skinner’s previous requests for testing, citing restrictions in the 2001 post-conviction DNA testing law. Lawmakers over the last several years, though, have repealed the restrictions that the court cited. Most recently, during the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers repealed part of the law that allowed DNA testing only in cases where analysis was not done during the original trial because the technology did not exist or for some other reason that was not the fault of the defendant.

In Skinner’s case, his original trial lawyers chose not to request DNA testing on all of the evidence available because they worried that it would further implicate him. Lawmakers referred to his case when they repealed the provision last year, and the court of appeals stayed Skinner’s execution date in November so it could “take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case.”

Today, lawyers for Skinner, who is at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, will argue to the court that legal impediments to the testing that previously existed are gone. DNA testing, they say in court documents, could reveal not only that the death row inmate is innocent, but it could point to the real perpetrator.

“The State may well have the wrong man, and, in combination with exculpatory DNA results, evidence that would very likely leave a rational jury harboring reasonable doubt about his guilt,” Skinner’s lawyers wrote in a brief to the court.

The court must only decide whether the results of DNA testing, combined with other evidence, could cause a jury to have reasonable doubt about Skinner’s guilt, his lawyers argue.

Skinner’s lawyers theorize in court filings that it was Busby’s uncle, Robert Donnell, who killed her. Witnesses reported seeing Donnell, who has since died, harass Busby at a party the night before the killing. The two had previously had sexual encounters, he had a violent history and neighbors reported seeing him cleaning his truck with a hose and stripping the carpet from it days after the murders.

Skinner’s lawyers contend that toxicology reports show that Skinner would have been too inebriated at the time of the crimes to have been physically capable of strangling Busby to unconsciousness, stabbing her 14 times and then stabbing her two large sons to death.

Additionally, the one witness who said Skinner confessed to the murders — an ex-girlfriend of his — has since recanted her testimony, saying authorities coerced her.

But lawyers for the state argued in a court brief that “nothing that DNA testing might reveal would lead a jury to acquit Skinner of involvement in these murders.”

Skinner’s former girlfriend’s recantation, they charge, was untruthful. Skinner, an admitted alcoholic, they say, would have been more tolerant of the chemicals he had ingested.

State lawyers also submitted a statement that Skinner gave to the sheriff just hours after the murder in which he described a fight he had with Busby the night she was killed. “I can see me arguing with Twila. I can might even see maybe I might have killed her. But I can’t see killing them boys,” he said. (That statement was not admitted during trial because, Skinner’s lawyers wrote, it was taken while Skinner was deprived of sleep and still under the influence of painkillers he was given for an injury to his hand the night of the murders, and the prosecutor didn’t attempt to have it admitted because he said he “knew darn well it wasn’t admissible” because “it was so blatantly violative of the defendant’s rights.”)

The state also argues — despite the repeal of the provision prohibiting testing in cases where inmates chose not to have evidence analyzed previously — that the court should deny the testing because Skinner elected not to do it at his trial. Lawmakers, state lawyers said, did not intend to allow a defendant to “lie behind the log” during trial and then seek DNA tests later to prolong his life.

“Skinner’s transparently false claims of innocence do a grave disservice to the truly innocent prisoners who sit behind bars, who are less likely to be believed when inmates such as Skinner demand post-conviction DNA testing as a means of subverting capital punishment and delaying their eventual execution date,” state lawyers wrote in their March brief to the appeals court. “The State of Texas would never oppose the efforts of a wrongfully convicted inmate to clear his name and vindicate his innocence in court.”

Texas appeals court stays pending execution to allow DNA testing (sentencing.typepad.com)

Oral Argument  may 2 2012,  9.a.m  pdf file 

AP-76,675 HENRY W. SKINNER GRAY
DNA
Robert C. Owen for the Appellant
Jonathan F. Mitchell for the State