Hank Skinner Execution Date Less Than a Month Away

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner is set to be executed on November 9.

I wrote about Skinner for Slate last year. While the Troy Davis execution was awful because there were significant doubts about Davis’ guilt, and the Willingham execution because there has since been an overwhelming consensus among forensic arson experts that he was convicted with junk science, the outrage in Skinner’s case exceeds both—and that’s despite the fact that Skinner may well be guilty.

Skinner (who has already come within an hour of execution) is about to be executed despite the fact that there is testable DNA from the murder weapon, the rape kit, hairs one of the victims was found clutching, and a jacket left at the crime scene similar to one worn by another possible suspect, all of which has yet to be tested.

And it’s even worse than that. The state started testing on the hairs a decade ago. When preliminary mitochondrial testing came back negative as a match to either Skinner or the victim, the state just decided to stop further testing.

It’s one thing to consider all of the evidence, find it unconvincing, and then proceed with an execution despite strong disagreement from the suspect’s supporters. It’s a whole other level of moral culpability to deliberately remain ignorant about evidence that could definitively establish guilt or innocence.

The testing will at most cost a few thousand dollars. Skinner’s attorneys and a lab and Arizona have already agreed to cover that cost. It would take no longer than a few months. If Skinner is indeed guilty, the tests could have been done, confirmed his guilt, and he’d have been executed years ago.

I have no idea if Hank Skinner is guilty. Neither does the state of Texas. The difference is that I and anyone with a lick of conscience would prefer we find out before the man is put to death.

Seems that Texas officials would just rather not know.

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25 Responses to “Hank Skinner Execution Date Less Than a Month Away”

  1. #1 |  lunchstealer | 

    Bother Texas not, with your ‘evidence’ and your ‘objective science’ and your ‘rational thinking’. This will be a faith-based execution. That’s how Texas rolls.

  2. #2 |  Thom | 

    Sometimes I think they do this kind of stuff intentionally just to make it clear that the state has an absolute power to kill you if it wants to.

  3. #3 |  Deoxy | 

    I make a lot of apologies for the death penalty here, even for somethings that I wish worked better or were done very differently.

    But there’s really nothing to say to this.

    OK, there’s one small thing, but it’s the always applicable death-penalty point, and I don’t think it really helps much here: if getting rid of the death penalty entirely were off the table, at least some people would be more ration and reasonable about this stuff.

    But as I said, I don’t think that really helps here. That’s crazy.

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    I wonder if Rick Perry will get questioned on this, or praised for his “tough on crime” stance.

  5. #5 |  Bob | 

    This must be a fantastic country to be a Serial Killer in. No one looks for you because they’re too busy pinning it on the first family member they see.

  6. #6 |  Leonson | 

    It would be one amazing story if Skinner is not guilty.

  7. #7 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    This must be a fantastic country to be a Serial Killer in.

    Oh…it ain’t that great.

  8. #8 |  the innominate one | 

    That should be Texas’ state motto: “Texas…we’d rather not know.”

  9. #9 |  lunchstealer | 

    Yeah, bob wins the thread.

  10. #10 |  CyniCAl | 

    “It’s a whole other level of moral culpability to deliberately remain ignorant about evidence that could definitively establish guilt or innocence.”

    The State has no morals, only power. It only listens to money. It only wants submission. It does not care that the “right” person is executed, only that someone is executed. The State cannot care what anyone thinks, it will only tell you what you are to think.

  11. #11 |  ktc2 | 

    Florida’s Innocence Commission votes to make cops record confessions


  12. #12 |  David | 

    Tomorrow: Cops vote to give Florida’s Innocence Commission the finger and shoot their dogs.

    (In all seriousness, it’s a nonbinding recommendation. Not happening.)

  13. #13 |  Six | 

    @Radley, I might be reading this wrong, but I think in the first paragraph you meant to say ‘not guilty’.

    “….the outrage in Skinner’s case exceeds both—and that’s despite the fact that Skinner may well be guilty…”

  14. #14 |  TC | 

    I don’t know anything about this case, but I do know if you have evidence you TEST it before you kill a man for a crime!

    Times past you did what you could, today we have available a massive variety of scientific possibilities available to prove guilt and or innocence.

    Oh but if he is exonerated of the crime, that will mean somebody did not do a good enough job as policing wouldn’t it? Locking up innocents for many years can cost us all a bunch of money.

    Yeah just kill him. Who the hell is he?

  15. #15 |  Leonson | 

    Well, if the suspect is covered in the victims blood, fled the scene, and told his neighbor/girlfriend *not* to call the police…. well, that’s a lot of evidence pointing right at him.

    Like holding a banks money bag, your face covered in blue paint, but you didn’t steal it.

  16. #16 |  a_random_guy | 

    This is one of those cases where it is worth remembering: There is no “state”. There is no “government”. These are names that we apply to collections of individuals. These individual people should not be allowed to hide behind the anonymous mask of the state.

    This really applies to any act of government – what is missing today is individual responsibility. If a state employee causes some sort of damage through gross negligence, they should be *personally* liable.

    The cops kick in your door – oops, wrong house – they should *personally* pay the repair costs plus a fine for emotional distress.

    The IRS descends on your company, accusing you of massive tax fraud. They practically shut you down for days, causing massive costs and lost production. At the end, they find nothing more than some piddling little rounding errors. The IRS auditors should be *personally* liable for the costs you incurred.

    In this case, we have someone about to be executed, and important evidence has not been tested. If the execution is carried through, and subsequent testing of the evidence proves that the person was innocent, then everyone in the line of command from the prison supervisor up to Rick Perry should be charged with murder.

    Wielding government power is a trust. Who fails in that trust should suffer consequences. Immunity should only apply in the case of ordinary mistakes, not in cases of negligence or blatant abuse of power.

  17. #17 |  The U.S. Government: Proud to Be Working Against Your Freedom, Your Prosperity, and Progress » ReasonAndJest.com | 

    […] Radley Balko: Hank Skinner Execution Date Less Than a Month Away […]

  18. #18 |  David | 

    Like holding a banks money bag, your face covered in blue paint, but you didn’t steal it.

    If you’ve got a guy holding the money bag, face covered in blue paint, but the surveillance footage shows a woman taking the cash, do you turn off the TV and charge the guy anyway?

  19. #19 |  Deoxy | 

    Well, if the suspect is covered in the victims blood, fled the scene, and told his neighbor/girlfriend *not* to call the police…. well, that’s a lot of evidence pointing right at him.

    As Radley said, the guy may well be guilty – but there’s some VERY conspicuous evidence (that in other cases get HUGE amounts of attention) taht has been specifically and intentionally NOT tested. If it’s so obvious that he’s guilty, why not let the evidence be tested (especially on someone else’s dime)?

    Seriously, I can’t think of any reason it wasn’t tested in the first place. Even if this guy is guilty, there may be someone else who was involved, too – I’m surprised THAT fact doesn’t get more “tough on crime” types to stop and think about it.

  20. #20 |  Leonson | 

    The problem is, the most that DNA testing would show at this point is that someone else may have been involved. It can’t exonerate him. The only thing that could have exonerated him was if he could prove he was near comatose at the time of the murders. But apparently the evidence he presented at trial was not found to be credible by the jurors.

    But even if the DNA finds other people potentially involved, it won’t tell the story of what happened in that house that evening.

    And I find it odd that Skinner wants vaginal swabs tested (or the “rape kit” as he calls it), since there was no testimony of rape (actually the opposite) and the victim was found fully clothed according to defense pictures submitted at trial.

  21. #21 |  David | 

    So? There’s evidence that may point to a murderer walking free while his/her accomplice takes the fall, and the state gets to just put its fingers in its ears?

  22. #22 |  Mike Crichton | 

    Leonson: And I find it odd that Skinner wants vaginal swabs tested (or the “rape kit” as he calls it), since there was no testimony of rape (actually the opposite)

    You might want to actually read the linked article: “Friends say Donnell (the other suspect) had raped Busby in the recent past.”

  23. #23 |  Animal Sloth | 

    According to wikipedia (unverified by me):

    Skinner’s lawyer chose not to have the DNA in question tested at his original trial.

    Skinner was in the room while 3 people were murdered, and his clothes were spattered with two of the victims’ blood. He either threatened or told his neighbor not to call the police.

    There were many theories explored at Skinner’s trial, also documented on wikipedia.

    Isn’t it worth considering, then, that Hank Skinner actually received his Constitutional due process?

  24. #24 |  katsays | 

    Some of you are REALLY confused about the facts of this case. Perhaps some of you should research the case, there is a link that has a sort of “in a nutshell” type of thing. All the information that’s been made available is there.
    @ mike crichton- Actually, her shirt was found pulled up, and her clothes were in disarray. Add that to the fact that Twila Busby’s maternal uncle, the one who had been harrassing her and allegedly raped her on several occasions, was seen at the party arguing with Twila. When she left, reportedly upset or mad, he followed her, and could not provide an alibi for the time from he left the party to 5:00 the next morning. THat is the reason it is called a rape kit. She is thought to have been raped.
    Skinner was allergic to codeine, and it is alleged that when drinking alcohol earlier that evening someone slipped him something with codeine in it, perhaps he took a pill and didn’t know it was in it. His allergy is well documented from his teenage years. The codeine allergy has a way of rendering the person unconscious or it could cause a person to be real weak and in pain. No matter what the reaction to the allergy to codeine is, it will NOT cause strength or aggression. I have an allergy to codeine and if I’m given it in a hospital without knowing I have had different reactions: unconsciousness, or in a dreaming or unrealistic state that the pain rendered me curled up in a ball on the bed unable to move. Also, he had a gash in his dominant hand that happened days before, it was infected oozing. It was said that he did not have the physical capability to cause those injuries

  25. #25 |  katsays | 

    Skinner repeatedly asked his attorney to test the DNA at trial, but his public defender wouldn’t. Here’s text from a document on the case:
    Hank’s court appointed attorney, Harold Comer, was himself a close political supporter of the trial judge. Comer was an ex-prosecutor who had been
    run out of office for embezzlement of drug forfeiture funds and drug use, who had twice prosecuted hank on spurious charges. The D.A. who
    prosecuted Hank for capital murder, John Mann, was previously Comer’s assistant when Comer was D.A. Comer was in trouble with the IRS for
    filing false tax returns and owed approximately $90,000 in back taxes and penalties when the trial judge, M. Kent Sims, awarded Comer the largest
    fee ever paid in a capital case in Texas; enough to pay off his debt to the IRS and avoid federal prison for tax evasion. Comer consistently refused and
    failed to produce exculpatory evidence at Hank’s trial; evidence that was readily available, such as Hank’s allergy to codeine, the boot prints in blood,
    or to have the evidence DNA tested which would have exonerated Hank. In short Comer sold Hank’s life to the death chamber for $86,000 and
    @TC Who is he? His name is Hank Skinner, a human being. He is a son, a person who used to have a life until this horrible thing happened to his common-law wife and her two adult sons and the sheriff decided he was guilty before they even got to the crime scene. It has been sworn to by a professional that Skinner was not physically capable of committing these murders. Hank Skinner is still a person, a man sitting in a tiny cell on death row in a prison in the most evil state in the world:Texas. In Texas, if a murder has been done they will find the victim’s closest family and friends, pick the closest person to the victim, and charge him/her with the crime. In Texas, jury members eat S&%t, so the devour all the lies, half-truths, and misleading information as long as it’s given by the prosecutors. That closest friend will be put into interrogation where he will be screamed at, lied to, treated like an animal without any rights as they turn the heat all the way up, starve him, and make him hold in his body waste until the closest person to the victim cannot physically take anymore and tells them what they want to hear. Then the state of Texas will give you a qualified defender who has charged you in the past, who has it out for you, as well. In Texas, they have murder cases wrapped up before they even occur. Hell, the prosecutors are so good that they already know the truth, they don’t need to test the evidence, why would they do that? The police and investigators already have the man. Ok that was all sarcastic- just in case there was some miscommunication.
    But what I cannot understand is what they are afraid of will come out in the DNA tests, because if you truly thought the man was guilty, you’re gonna know they’ll be positive for Hank’s DNA match. So that’ll make the prosecutors and judge look good. But wait! If that’ll make them look good, then what’ll it make them look like if it comes out that it doesn’t match Hank’s? Yeah, that’s right, that these people rush to judgement, don’t do their jobs correctly, don’t try except when trying to frame someone. All of this means they are NOT DOING THEIR JOBS! You see, they have been hired by the state of Texas to investigate crimes and bring the correct perpetrator to justice, right? How does Skinner’s case sound like a person hired to investigate ( they didn’t investigate unless when they did they only wrote down the things that were negative toward Hank,) and they obviously didn’t do the investigator’s sworn duty to search for the truth and find the killer.Basically, if it made Hank look guilty or bad, it went in the keep pile, if it didn’t, it went into the garbage. By refusing to test the DNA testing, the jury has not had the opportunity to hear the whole case. There is still physical evidence that has never been considered, and if this evidence has the power to make a judge immediately order the release of a defendant, it has to be the most important and influential information of the case, and Switzer won’t get it tested. The only thing it does to prevent the DNA testing is to keep a man’s date with death. It doesn’t ensure justice because we dont’ know the truth. The prosecutors know the evidence doesn’t point to Hank and they are intentionally and malliciously keeping the tests from being tested in a blatant form of “No one can make us, so you lose. Ha Ha.” They are killing this man because the state of Texas is allowing it, the citizens are not standing up and saying “No, you cannot just decide to kill one of us because you believed I did it.” There is evidence saying otherwise and it is being concealed to keep a man on death row. Sign the petition at change.org that demands the prosecutor, Lynn Switzer, to test the DNA evidence collected at the crime scene, and let the evidence speak for itself. Let the truth stand, and no more lies.