The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday decided to grant a stay of execution for death row inmate Hank Skinner who was schedule to be executed on Wednesday. The court decided to stay his execution to allow for time to review the changes in the DNA statute as it pertains to Skinner's case.
Skinner, 49, was convicted in 1995 for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend Twila Busby, 40, and her two adult sons Elwin Scooter Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20. They were strangled, beaten and stabbed on New Year's Eve at their home in Pampa, located in the Texas Panhandle.
The DNA evidence wasn't tested before his 1995 trial and since then Skinner has been seeking DNA testing in the case in order to prove his innocence.
Skinner escaped the death chamber last year when he received an eleventh-hour stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, which had a 6-3 ruling that prison inmates may pursue a federal civil rights law asking for court-ordered DNA testing that wasn't done before their conviction.
Texas' Court of Criminal Appeals has said the Texas code providing for DNA testing has undergone several changes since its creation but has never been reviewed in the particular context of Skinner's case.
Because the DNA statute has changed, and because some of those changes were because of this case, we find that it would be prudent for this Court to take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case, court order states.
The Houston Chronicle reported that the state has said that the defendant couldn't later ask for the DNA testing in the case, as Skinner's attorneys have declined to test all the evidence that was available in 1995 because of fear that it might incriminate their client.
The untested items in the case include a man's windbreaker that doesn't belong to Skinner. It was found beside the victim's body stained with blood splatter, human hair and perspiration. There are also swabs from a rape kit, two knives, towels and clothing, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Public Wants DNA Testing Done
Some members of the public are hoping that these items will be tested before another execution date, if any, is set for Skinner.
An online petition was created for Skinner on the social change Web site Change.org approximately one month ago.
According to Jonathan Perri, Change.org's senior organizer for criminal justice, the petition was created by Skinner's wife and his supporters. The petition asks that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a presidential candidate, not only stay Skinner's execution but test the evidence in the murder case also.
The petition began gaining traction last week with more than 85,000 signatures received on Nov. 2, according to Perri. The growing rate for the petition, Perri said, is more than 3,500 signatures per hour and is being led by Justice4Hank, a coalition of family and supporters of Skinner.
Perri said the petition is one of fastest growing on its site, especially in light of the execution of Georgia inmate Troy Davis, and that it is for anyone who interested in criminal justice and upholding criminal justice.
When you execute someone there is no going back, Perri said, adding that this is why the DNA evidence must be tested. It just seems strange that they don't want this tested. If they are confident that he guilty why not spend the $500 or so to get it done? It is unfair that they wouldn't allow this to be tested. They are going to spend a significant amount of money to get him executed.
Cost of DNA Testing vs. Execution
According to report from the Guardian, it costs $550 to test a murder weapon for DNA in Texas. Skinner was reportedly twice denied this testing.
In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, which is about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years, according to a report on the Web site deathpenaltyinfo.org.
Perri said if Skinner is wrongfully executed it could jeopardize Texas criminal justice system.
If it turns out that an innocent man was killed then how often is this happening? Perri asked.
Post-conviction DNA testing and Michael Morton
Texas inmate Michael Morton, 57, a former grocery store employee, was freed last month after serving 25 years in jail for killing his wife. Morton was able to walk out of prison as a free man after DNA testing proved his innocence and linked another man to the murder.
Perri said the next step to the petition is up to the creators.
They are asking for the evidence to be tested and so that is what they are likely to continue pushing for, he said.
Watch Skinner's interview with the Texas Tribune below: