death penalty DNA testing execution Hank Skinner Houston Chronicle Mark White Texas

Editorial Boards in Texas Call for DNA Testing for Hank Skinner

Over the last week, there have been a number of editorials and op-eds calling for DNA testing for Hank Skinner, who is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas next Wednesday, November 9, despite the fact that DNA testing has never been conducted on evidence collected at the crime scene.  Here’s an excerpt from the Houston Chronicle (“Don’t execute Hank Skinner before crucial DNA evidence is tested,” November 2, 2011):

So now we find ourselves, yet again, asking why the state of Texas is in such a hurry to execute Skinner even as two separate courts – either one of which could order that access be provided – are considering the merits of his case.


The state has always held that because Skinner’s attorneys declined to test all the evidence available in 1995, fearing it might incriminate their client, they could not later ask for it to be tested. But this new state law removes such obstacles.


The untested evidence becomes even more important in light of the fact that Skinner’s attorneys failed to introduce evidence on another potential suspect, Busby’s uncle, now dead, who had a history of violent crime, had stalked Busby, and behaved suspiciously after the crime. Untested items include a man’s windbreaker, not belonging to Skinner, found beside the victim’s body, stained with blood splatter, human hair and perspiration; swabs from a rape kit; two knives, one of them a likely murder weapon; and towels and clothing.

Read the full editorial.

The Austin American-Statesman features a powerful op-ed from former Texas Governor Mark White and former FBI Director William Sessions (“No good reason for state to deny DNA testing,” November 2, 2011).   Here are excerpts:

We hope the courts’ actions will reflect the belief of the majority of Texans that inmates should have access to DNA testing that could prove their innocence. This belief also is shared by more than a dozen current and former elected officials and former judges, prosecutors and law enforcement, who have joined together to urge state officials to test the DNA evidence.


We agree that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for certain crimes. But we also are united in our deep conviction that when it comes to the death penalty, there is no room for uncertainty. The DNA testing that Skinner seeks could prove that he committed the murders, or it might prove he didn’t. …


It is unconscionable that the prosecutor refuses to test the available DNA evidence when such testing has the power to confirm the verdict or prove the other suspect’s guilt. Testing the evidence is just common sense. The only potentially legitimate objection would be cost, but an outside group has offered to pay for the test, meaning there is literally no cost to the state. Further, the state continues to waste untold taxpayer dollars fighting this test — vastly more than it costs to just test the evidence.

Read more.

Also worth reading is a commentary piece that appeared on November 2, 2011 in the Guardian: “Hank Skinner, a $550 DNA test and the price of Texas justice.”   Writer Alex Hannaford notes that “The fact that the state seems to be trying every trick in the book to stop Skinner – a man who is set to die in a week – from making one last attempt to prove his innocence leaves more than a bad taste. If the state is so sure he’s guilty and the death sentence safe, what are they afraid of?”

That’s a very good question.