Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

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March 22, 2010

Hank Skinner Execution Update: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Deny DNA Test Request

by Stephen Littau

All seven members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Death Panel voted earlier today to deny Hank Skinner’s request to have DNA samples tested. Unless Gov. Rick Perry or the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Hank Skinner will be executed this Wednesday as scheduled. The courts have rejected Skinner’s requests for the DNA tests for over a decade; the rationale being that Skinner failed to request the tests during the original trial.

Supposing for a second that the courts have a valid point,* I would argue that there is more than one interest that is not being served other than Skinner’s. For one, if someone other than Skinner committed these murders, the courts are allowing this person to escape the justice the victims’ families so righteously deserve. If Skinner did kill these individuals, there will be lingering doubts by his supporters and he will become a martyr.

I think there is even a more fundamental question though: What is the true purpose of our criminal justice system? If the purpose is to determine the truth, then the interest of truth is also sacrificed in the process. If, however; the purpose is process – regardless of how absurd/the truth be damned as Alito, Roberts, and the seven members of the Texas Death Panel apparently believe, then I suppose the courts are working just as they should.

Where will Gov. Perry/ SCOTUS fall, on the side of truth or process?

For those of you who abhor the idea that an innocent man could be put to death in the name of process and would still like to try to influence the governor’s decision to grant a 30 day reprieve, here is the contact information one more time:

Opinion Lines
Texas callers: (800) 252-9600
Out of state callers and Austin residents: (512) 463-1782

Office of the Governor, Main Switchboard (from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST): (512) 463-2000

Office of the Governor Fax: (512) 463-1849

The Innocence Project also has an easy petition that only takes a few minutes to fill out.

If you cannot get through on the “Out of state” line, try the main switchboard. I tried both today; I had no success with the Out of state but actually talked to a real person immediately who said she “would pass my message on to the governor” when I called the switchboard (so don’t be rattled if someone actually answers). Be polite but get your point across.

With that, let me leave you with a closing thought from Dallas Morning News Editor Michael Landauer:

We have just posted our editorial set for tomorrow’s paper urging Gov. Rick Perry to do the right thing and delay Wednesday’s planned execution of Hank Skinner. Is he guilty? Honestly, I don’t know. I tend to think juries get things right most of the time, but in this case, there is a lot of evidence that needs to be DNA tested to be sure. I am hopeful Gov. Perry will do the right thing. There is no downside to ordering a 30-day reprieve. The upside is that he looks like someone interested in the truth and interested in the kind of certainty that the proper dispensation of the death penalty requires.

Point of Clarification (March 23, 2010 9:29 a.m. edit)

I mentioned in the post that the DNA evidence could implicate someone other than Skinner and by not testing the DNA, someone else would escape justice. I have since re-read an article that Radley Balko wrote just over a month ago which reminded me of a detail I had forgotten. According to the article, another man by the name of Robert Donnell could have committed the murders. Witnesses say that Donnell had harassed Skinner’s girlfriend (one of the murder victims) the night of the murders. Donnell allegedly raped her on another occasion and had been stalking her up to the day she was killed. If the DNA sample turns out to be that of Donnell’s rather than Skinner’s, Donnell will still have escaped the justice the victims’ families deserve because Donnell has since died.

Related Posts:

ACTION ALERT: Tell Gov. Perry to Give Hank Skinner 30 More Days

Former Texas Prosecutor and Judge Both Believe the State Has Executed More Than One Innocent Man


*Something I am not conceding at all.

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9 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, in this case I believe he committed these heinous crimes. I don’t believe DNA evidence can possibly prove that he didn’t do it. Sorry guys, but in the sorry state of Texas, they got it right this time.

    Comment by Sandra Lewis — March 23, 2010 @ 6:12 am
  2. Thank you for this excellent essay. I have to wonder what those opposed to DNA testing are afraid of. If they are so positive that Skinner won’t be exonerated by the results of these tests, why don’t they want the full truth to come out? If that’s true, the tests would only strengthen the case against Skinner, so what are they trying to hide?

    Is this merely a matter of pride? Or is there corruption being hidden? Either way, it’s hard to believe this is happening in our country, in our great state. I’m stunned.

    Comment by Patricia — March 23, 2010 @ 7:11 am
  3. Nice to see what ill you think of us knuckle-dragging Texans. Which part of “due process” is it that that you confuse with endlessly fishing for a way out? Which part of the world being imperfect do you fail to grasp when condemning an imperfect system (with juries of knuckle-dragging Texans, no less) for executing innocent people?

    Thank you for the framable example of pablum.

    Comment by Walter — March 23, 2010 @ 10:45 am
  4. Pardon, that was unkind. I meant parochial pablum.

    Comment by Walter — March 23, 2010 @ 10:49 am
  5. Walter, I’m originally from Texas. I lived my first 19 years of life there. I have a great deal of love for Texas (for what it’s worth, my favorite NFL team is the Dallas Cowboys). I grew up in a small town not too far from where these murders took place.

    My problem is with the broken Texas criminal justice system not the people. The Texas criminal justice system has wrongfully convicted more individuals than any other state. Dallas County alone has wrongfully convicted more individuals than all but 3 STATES. I take no pleasure in reporting these unfortunate facts.

    I hardly think that testing evidence (without using a dime of taxpayer money) that the state currently has in its custody that could be easily tested is putting an undue burden on the state. After waiting 15 years, what’s 30 more days to be sure they are killing the right person?

    “Which part of the world being imperfect do you fail to grasp when condemning an imperfect system (with juries of knuckle-dragging Texans, no less) for executing innocent people?”

    This is the reason I am opposed to the death penalty in principle – because it’s a human system it will always be an imperfect. If the system is imperfect, the system has no business taking someone’s life. Taking one’s freedom is one thing, taking someone’s life is quite another.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — March 23, 2010 @ 11:45 am
  6. Stephen,

    Go back and read Balko’s article again as to there being no request for DNA testing. Skinner wrote to his lawyer to have him request DNA testing, and his lawyer (the guy who previously prosecuted Skinner) did not.

    Comment by Nick M. — March 23, 2010 @ 11:51 am
  7. Good point Nick. Why doesn’t the Texas Death Panel take this into consideration?

    Comment by Stephen Littau — March 23, 2010 @ 12:42 pm
  8. [...] Related: Hank Skinner Execution Update: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Deny DNA Test Request [...]

    Pingback by The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » SCOTUS, Not Gov. Perry, Grants Hank Skinner a Reprieve — March 24, 2010 @ 3:42 pm
  9. Hi
    I am a newbie here.
    Glad to find this forum…as what I am looking for

    Comment by Flellaemupt — March 29, 2010 @ 7:37 pm

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