Hank Skinner Execution Update: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Deny DNA Test Requestby 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:
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.
*Something I am not conceding at all.