For Immediate Release: October 27, 2011
Contact: Laura Burstein at (202) 626-6868 or email@example.com
Current and Former Elected Officials, Former Judges, Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Urge State Officials to Test DNA in Skinner Case
Skinner Execution in Less Than Two Weeks Despite State’s Refusal to Test DNA for More Than A Decade
(Thursday, October 27, 2011) Hank Skinner remains scheduled for execution on November 9 despite the fact that key pieces of evidence in his case have never been subjected to DNA testing. Today, former judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers, along with current and former elected officials from Texas, delivered a letter to state officials calling on them not to execute Mr. Skinner until that DNA testing can be performed. The letter was sent to Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer.
The State previously obtained the November 9 execution date even though Mr. Skinner is awaiting two separate court decisions, either of which could compel District Attorney Switzer to provide access to the previously untested evidence. Mr. Skinner’s federal court appeal follows a March 2011 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which confirmed Mr. Skinner’s right to sue for access to the DNA evidence using a federal civil rights law. A motion is also pending in state court under a new Texas law that went into effect in September designed to remove procedural barriers from post-conviction DNA testing.
In the letter, the prominent Texans express “grave and growing concerns about the State’s stubborn refusal to date to test all the evidence in the Skinner case. Executing Mr. Skinner without testing all the relevant evidence would suggest official indifference to the possibility of error in this case and needlessly undermine public confidence in Texas’s criminal justice system.”
Signatories to the letter include: Rodney Ellis, Texas State Senator and author of the recent legislation reforming Texas’ post-conviction DNA testing law; Mark White, former Governor of Texas; Morris L. Overstreet, former Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and former Amarillo Assistant District Attorney; Sam Millsap, former Bexar County District Attorney; Kenneth J. Mighell, former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas; and Earl D. Musick, former Lieutenant of the Houston Police Department.
The letter cites widespread public support for using DNA testing when available, with eighty-five percent of Texans agreeing that an inmate should have access to testing if it has a chance of proving him innocent. In May, the Texas Legislature voted with overwhelming bipartisan support to pass reforms that increase access to post-conviction DNA testing.
Earlier this month, Michael Morton was exonerated after 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. DNA testing cleared Mr. Morton’s name and identified the true perpetrator of the crime. Mr. Morton’s case, the letter states, highlights the need for the State to consent to DNA testing when untested DNA evidence is available.
The never-tested evidence in Mr. Skinner’s case includes: a man’s windbreaker found next to victim Twila Busby’s body, which had blood splatter, perspiration stains and human hairs on it; two knives, at least one of which was a likely murder weapon; a bloody towel; scrapings from Ms. Busby’s fingernails, which may contain blood or skin cells of the perpetrator; and swabs from a rape-kit.
The letter concludes: “There is simply no justifiable reason why Texas continues to waste taxpayer dollars in its decade-long fight to prevent scientific testing in Mr. Skinner’s case. We implore you to take the lead in the search for truth in this case. Test the DNA evidence before moving forward with Mr. Skinner’s execution. If that requires a brief reprieve of Mr. Skinner’s scheduled November 9 execution, that short delay will be a small price to pay to maintain public confidence in Texas’s criminal justice system.”
For additional background or to interview attorneys or signatories to the letter urging the State to test the DNA in the Hank Skinner case, please contact Laura Burstein at (202) 626-6868 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the full text of the letter (also available for download as a pdf file), along with the list of signatories:
October 27, 2011
The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
1100 San Jacinto Street, Suite 412
Austin, TX 78701
The Honorable Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas
300 W. 15th Street
Austin, TX 78701
The Honorable Lynn Switzer
District Attorney, 31st Judicial District of Texas
205 N. Russell Street, Suite 413
Pampa, TX 79065
Dear Governor Perry, Attorney General Abbott and District Attorney Switzer,
We, the undersigned current and former elected officials and former prosecutors and judges, write to urge you to test the untested DNA evidence in the Hank Skinner case before proceeding with his execution, presently set for November 9.
We are all Texans, and we have great respect for each of you and the offices you hold. At the same time, we all also share grave and growing concerns about the State’s stubborn refusal to date to test all the evidence in the Skinner case. Executing Mr. Skinner without testing all the relevant evidence would suggest official indifference to the possibility of error in this case and needlessly undermine public confidence in Texas’s criminal justice system.
We believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for certain crimes, and we understand that the DNA testing might well show that Mr. Skinner is deserving of that punishment. But we are also steadfast in our belief that when it comes to the ultimate penalty, we must do everything in our power to ensure certainty before taking the irreversible step of carrying out an execution. We are not alone in this view. There is widespread public support in Texas for using DNA testing, whenever it is available, to ensure the greatest possible accuracy in our criminal justice system. As you all know, in May the Legislature enacted reforms to Texas’s post-conviction DNA testing law precisely to eliminate procedural barriers that in some cases – like Mr. Skinner’s – had gotten in the way of the search for the truth. That legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, not least because polls show that eighty-five percent of Texans agree that prisoners should have broad access to DNA testing.
Testing the DNA evidence in Mr. Skinner’s case is not only common sense, it is a public safety issue of great consequence. This month’s exoneration of Michael Morton, after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment, highlights why state officials should consent to DNA testing when untested evidence is available. In Mr. Morton’s case, the DNA testing not only proved his innocence, but identified the true perpetrator of the crime.
In many cases, there is no DNA evidence available to be tested. That is not true in Mr. Skinner’s case. Indeed, there are multiple pieces of key untested evidence found at the crime scene, including a blood- and sweat-stained windbreaker jacket similar to one regularly worn by an alternative suspect; two knives, at least one of which was a likely murder weapon; a bloody towel; the victim’s fingernail clippings, which may have the perpetrator’s blood under them; and swabs from a sexual assault examination kit.
There is simply no justifiable reason why Texas continues to waste taxpayer dollars in its decade-long fight to prevent scientific testing in Mr. Skinner’s case. We implore you to take the lead in the search for truth in this case. Test the DNA evidence before moving forward with Mr. Skinner’s execution. If that requires a brief reprieve of Mr. Skinner’s scheduled November 9 execution, that short delay will be a small price to pay to maintain public confidence in Texas’s criminal justice system.
Jim Dunnam, Texas State Representative, District 57, 1997-2011; Senior Fellow, Texas First Foundation
Rodney Ellis, Texas Senator, District 13, 1990 – present
James A. Fry, James Fry P.C. 1982-present; Assistant District Attorney, Dallas County, Texas, 1980-1982; Former Chairman, Texas State Bar Grievance Committee
Pete P. Gallego, Texas State Representative, District 74, 1991-present
Carlos Garcia, Assistant District Attorney, Starr County, Texas, 1989-1991 Assistant District Attorney, Travis County, Texas, 1991-1995
Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Texas State Senator, District 20, 2002-present
Norman E. Lanford, Judge, 339th District Court, 1985 – 1992, Visiting Judge, 1992 – 1997
Kenneth J. Mighell, United States Attorney, Northern District of Texas (1977-1981); Assistant United States Attorney, Northern District of Texas (1961-1977)
Sam D. Millsap, Jr., District Attorney, Bexar County, San Antonio, Texas, 1983-1987
Joanne Musick, Assistant District Attorney, Harris County, 1998 – 2003
Earl D. Musick, Houston Police Dept., 1966-1999 (retired as lieutenant) Assistant District Attorney, Harris County Police Department, 1999-2003
Michol O’Connor, Justice, Court of Appeals, First District of Texas, 1988-2000; Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Texas, 1975-1978
Wendell A. Odom, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Harris County, Texas, 1974-1978 Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of Texas, 1978-1982
Morris L. Overstreet, Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 1990-1998; Assistant District Attorney, Potter County, 1975-1980
Nat C. Perez, Jr., Brownsville Police Department, 1980 – 1989; Air Force Military Policeman, 1976-1980
Eddie Rodriguez, Texas State Representative, District 51, 2003-present
Mark White, Chairman, Geovox Security, Inc.; Governor of Texas, 1983-1987; Attorney General of Texas, 1979-1983; Secretary of State of Texas, 1973-1977; Partner, Reynolds, White Allen & Cook, 1969-1973; Assistant Attorney General of Texas, 1965-1969