An hour before he was sentenced to die yesterday, Hank Skinner received a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court. The stay was a temporary halting of the execution to allow the High Court more time to consider Skinner’s appeal to release evidence from the 1993 murder scene of Twila Busby; DNA testing of which could supply without a reasonable doubt his guilt or innocence.
The granted stay does not guarantee that the Gray County District Attorney will be forced to release the forensic evidence for DNA testing. Instead, Skinner is contending in his position that he has a constitutional interest, under Texas state law, in seeking to use evidence that would help prove his innocence. However, a conflict has occurred among lower courts as to whether a DNA access claim can be pursued under civil rights law, or only under habeas law. Since the Supreme Court agreed to examine the issue last Term in the case of District Attorney’s Office v Osborne, the Court decided to postpone Skinner’s execution.
What all this means for Skinner is that based on whether the Court does decide to schedule a hearing on the petition, Skinner’s postponement will stay in effect. If review is granted by the Supreme Court, a ruling is not expected until next term, beginning in October. If review is denied, the postponement will automatically expire and the state will schedule a new execution date.
A number of news sources and prominent blogs have commented on these latest developments, the following is a brief list of coverage.
“Skinner Gets a Stay” –The Texas Tribune
“U.S. Supreme Court delays Texas execution“- Houston Chronicle
“Death Row inmate gets last minute reprieve“- Ft. Worth Star Telegram
“Supreme Court stops execution of convicted killer in Texas” – Los Angeles Times
“Supreme Court Grants Stay of Execution of Hank Skinner“- Judge H. Lee Sarokin; Huffington Post– questions the resistance to DNA testing to establish, without a reasonable doubt, guilt
“Texas did not execute Hank Skinner, by why so much last minute drama the norm?”- Steve Weinberg; True Slant– questions why the stay of execution happened in the last possible hour
“Execution delayed in DNA case“- Lyle Denniston; Scotus Blog- covers the legal implications of the Supreme Court’s decision