Photo: Caleb Bryant Miller,
Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner continues his fight for DNA testing. On Wednesday, judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals heard oral arguments debating whether Skinner’s request for biological analysis of crime scene evidence should be granted. The Texas Tribune reported:
“You really ought to be absolutely sure before you strap a person down and kill him,” Judge Michael Keasler said.
Skinner has twice come within hours of execution, most recently in November. Skinner was sentenced to death in 1995 for allegedly killing his live-in girlfriend and her two adult sons in their Pampa, Texas, home. He maintains that he didn’t commit the crime and has sought DNA testing on probative evidence from the crime scene for over a decade.
Skinner’s lawyer argues that if DNA testing on all the evidence excludes Skinner it could create a reasonable doubt for jurors, but Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell disagrees saying the other evidence could not undermine the conviction and may set an expensive precedent and burden prosecutors with testing all pieces of evidence post-conviction.
“Prosecutors will have to test everything, no matter what the cost,” Mitchell told the court.
“Prosecutors should be testing everything anyway,” Keasler said.
Skinner’s previous request was denied citing restrictions in the state’s 2001 post-conviction DNA testing law, which stipulated that DNA testing would only be done if the technology didn’t exist at the time of the original trial. In Skinner’s case, his trial lawyers chose not to pursue DNA testing for fear that it would implicate him.
The “fault provision” as that part of the law was called, has since been repealed. Sen. Rodney Ellis, who authored the bill that repealed the fault provision, has explicitly said that he aimed to allow testing in cases like Skinner’s. It could be weeks or months before the court rules if Skinner will finally be allowed DNA testing.
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