Today the Texas Attorney General’s Office released the partial results of DNA tests conducted this fall in the case of Henry “Hank” Skinner. Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1993 murders of his girlfriend Twila Busby and her two developmentally disabled adult sons in Pampa, Texas. Key pieces of evidence collected at the crime scene were not subjected to DNA testing, and for 10 years state officials refused to release it for analysis. In his original trial, Skinner was represented by a former district attorney who had previously prosecuted him for theft and assault. That attorney chose not to seek DNA testing, despite the fact that Skinner steadfastly protested his innocence of the crime.
On November 7, 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay to Skinner, who was scheduled to be executed on November 9 despite serious questions surrounding his guilt. This was the second stay of execution for Skinner in two years. In granting last year’s stay, the court referenced changes in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 64 related to DNA testing. Earlier in the year, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 122, which increased access to post-conviction DNA testing; it was signed into law by Governor Perry and went into effect on September 1, 2011. The court stayed the execution to consider Skinner’s case in light of these changes in the statute.
On June 1, the State of Texas filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in which it agreed to DNA testing for death row inmate Hank Skinner.
Statements from Skinner’s attorney and from TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé in response to this latest development are posted below :
Statement from Attorney for Hank Skinner in Response to Initial DNA Test Results in Hank Skinner Case
“We find it troubling that the Attorney General’s Office has seen fit to release partial results of the DNA testing and submit its ‘advisory’ to the court while the DNA testing is still in progress. The partial results which have been produced by the initial round of DNA testing show that at least one person other than Hank Skinner and the victims may have been present in the house on the night the murders took place, and may have had contact with one of the weapons used in the killings.
“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.
“Specifically, DNA testing of a carpet sample from the bedroom occupied by victims Elwin Caler and Randy Busby reveals a mixture of the DNA of Mr. Caler and that of an unknown person who is not Mr. Skinner, Randy Busby, or Twila Busby.
“In addition, DNA testing of one stain on a knife that may well have been used in the murders reveals a mixture of DNA from three contributors. Two of those contributors appear to be Mr. Caler and Mr. Skinner, but the third contributor is someone other than Mr. Caler, Mr. Skinner, Randy Busby or Twila Busby.
“The DPS crime laboratory submitted the unknown DNA profile from the carpet sample to the Texas law enforcement DNA database, but that search produced no matches.
“We have requested additional DNA testing that could improve the quality of the unknown DNA profile from the carpet sample, to allow authorities to submit it to CODIS, the national law enforcement DNA database, to search for matches there. We have also requested additional DNA testing of the stains from the knife, likewise hoping to develop further the DNA profile of the third contributor.
“All the parties must do everything in their power to make sure Texas does not make an irreversible mistake.”
Rob Owen, attorney for Hank Skinner
Clinical Professor, University of Texas School of Law
November 14, 2012
Statement from TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé Regarding Hank Skinner’s Case
“Testing the DNA evidence in Mr. Skinner’s case was the right thing to do. It is shocking that state officials fought against DNA testing for over a decade. Taxpayers should never again have to wait ten years to get to the bottom of the truth.
The 300 DNA exonerations nationwide, including 44 DNA exonerations in Texas, including Michael Morton and the posthumous exoneration of Timothy Cole, exemplify the importance of testing DNA evidence when it is available.
DNA testing lends much-needed confidence to a system that does not always get it right. It is common sense to test the DNA and provide certainty in these cases.”