Death Penalty

The Case for Hank Skinner

This post was published in my weekly death penalty column at The Progressive Playbook.

On March 18, 1995, Henry Watkins “Hank” Skinner was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons, Randy Busby and Elwin Caler. The three individuals were brutally murdered on December 31, 1993 in Pampa, Texas, as Twila was bludgeoned to death and the two sons were stabbed.

It has been fifteen years since Skinner’s conviction, and in March, 2010, just thirty five minutes before Hank was scheduled to be executed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution in order to consider Skinner’s request for DNA testing, something that was not done during his trial in 1994. Ultimately, while the Supreme Court ruled in Skinner’s favor, it did not grant Skinner the actual DNA testing, instead, under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the Supreme Court ruled that Skinner could sue the county D.A.

It is not as if there wasn’t any DNA evidence to test. In fact, there were many DNA samples taken from the crime scene, including a rape kit, blood samples, samples of biological material from underneath Twila Busby’s fingernails, suggesting that she fought back at her assailant, and a windbreaker with more blood samples, human hairs, and perspiration stains. There is also evidence that another man, Twila’s uncle, had been stalking her the night of the murder and had a violent past with Twila.

Despite the plethora of DNA evidence and the pleas of seven of the 12 jurors on the case to test the DNA, the state of Texas has refused to test the samples in the Skinner case. Skinner is set to be executed on November 9th, and judging by the actions of Georgia in killing Troy Davis this past September despite so much doubt surrounding his case, we cannot assume that justice will be paid by our failing court system. We need to act now and prevent Texas from executing what may very well be an innocent man. Texas has done it before in 2004 when they executed Cameron Todd Willingham, despite expert arson evidence that could have exonerated him.

We need to act now. Please contact Gray County (TX) District Attorney Lynn Switzer and Governor Rick Perry and urge Texas to test Hank Skinner’s DNA and not to execute another man. You can also sign this petition and show your support.

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