A DNA test on Hank Skinner could prove him to be innocent of the 1995 murder of his live-in girlfriend Twila Busby and her two adult sons.
Skinner, a Texan, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, has been looking, through his legal team, for the courts' permission to analyze DNA evidence that has been ignored up until now. This could well be the last chance for Skinner to prove himself innocent. Previous pleas to analyze the evidence have been denied.
Any time DNA evidence can be used in its context and be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it, said former Texas Gov. and former U.S. President, George W. Bush, back in June, 2000, when granting a last-minute reprieve to death row inmate Ricky McGinn, while further DNA evidence in his case was analyzed. Unfortunately for McGinn, the reprieve was only temporary; he was executed after a few months anyway.
At the time, Bush was running for the post of U.S. President.
Curiously enough, the current Texas governor, Rick Perry (who is also hoping to become U.S. President), is faced with a similar decision.
Skinner insists that he was unconscious (he claims to have been intoxicated) at the time of the murder and speculates that it was actually Busby's uncle who was the real killer. Unfortunately, Busby's uncle died sometime back.
During the trial, Skinner's lawyers decided not to test certain items, since it was likely that Skinner's DNA would be found in abundance; given the fact that his girlfriend and her were sharing the apartment. However, since 2000, his lawyers have argued that the evidence could actually exonerate him.
Skinner, who was also scheduled to be executed in March, 2010, before the U.S. Supreme Court issued an eleventh-hour stay. The next year, with a 6-3 decision, the court said Skinner could file a federal civil rights claim requesting his DNA be tested. However, it did not say that he had a constitutional right to the testing itself.
A report in the Texas Tribune suggested that the court sent the case back to the federal district court to decide whether Skinner's civil rights were being violated by the state's application of [Texas's] 2001 DNA law. State lawmakers, though, made significant changes to that DNA testing law this year, expanding access and eliminating many of the restrictions the state had previously cited in denying Skinner's requests.
The federal court, last month, indicated that according to the changes, the decision to analyze DNA could be left to the state court completely. Skinner's lawyers appealed for DNA testing under the new law on Thursday and a judge ruled against Skinner's request.
As governor, Perry holds the power to grant a month-long stay on the execution, which should be ample time for DNA testing.
However, it remains to be seen if Perry will actually exercise the authority he has. According to a report on Motherjones.com, in the latest poll, national support for the death penalty has declined to 60 percent. However, among Republicans it's 79 percent, with only 14 percent opposed.
The report also suggested that even if Perry does not grant a stay of execution and posthumous testing exonerates Skinner, it may not be politically threatening for his Presidential ambitions.
Last month, another Texas inmate, Michael Morton, was acquitted of charges of murdering his wife, based on evidence gathered from DNA testing. Morton had already served 25 years of a life sentence before he was freed.
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