Thursday, March 25, 2010

Time to test Skinner DNA evidence

Karl Keys at Capital Defense Weekly sums up the news of the Supreme Court's stay in the Hank Skinner case aptly: "As always, Rob Owen rocks. My suggestion to the Texas AG’s office, test the material now & moot the issue if Mr. Owen & crew are wrong."

That's exactly right. If SCOTUS was going to let Skinner be executed without the evidence being tested they'd have let it happen last night. This matter could be put to rest in 30 days time one way or another.

It's time to test the evidence - past time, really. Do it to save face for the state of Texas, if nothing else. Don't further encourage the impression that Texas judges and prosecutors are biased, bloodthirsty, and can't manage capital cases without killing an innocent person. In D.C. they're holding panel discussions on the topic, why give fodder to those stereotypes?

A footnote: Governor Perry failed two important tests yesterday by failing to commute Skinner's sentence and forcing the Supreme Court to manage his business:

First, after he signed Timothy Cole's posthumous pardon last week, the open question remained, "Has the Governor learned anything from this experience about making sure innocence claims are fully vetted?" In the Skinner case, we got a quick answer: "No way." The attitudes that allowed innocent people to be convicted and potentially executed on his watch are still firmly entrenched.

Second, for a Governor so full of himself when he champions "states rights" and the Tenth Amendment, in this case he ignored the adage that with rights come responsibilities. Texas should be handling its own business on the Hank Skinner case, SCOTUS shouldn't have to intervene over and over because neither the Governor nor the courts have the courage to do the right thing. Governor Perry is calling for expanded state power but simultaneously demonstrating that he can't be trusted to use it wisely - that even matters of life and death will be measured according to their political calculus as opposed to the interests of justice.

If you don't want federal courts running your business, Governor Perry, then act more responsibly and it won't so often be necessary.

RELATED: Mark Bennett has a terrific breakdown of the procedural details of the writ under consideration at SCOTUS.

20 comments:

Robert Langham said...

Be fair, be just, look at all the evidence. What's wrong with these people?

Anonymous said...

I wonder when these tests also prove to incriminate Skinner, what his lawyers will claim next. They don't have any particular interest in the merits of his claim of innocence. All they care about is keeping him alive. If a lie will serve to keep him alive another 90 days, no problem. At some point there needs to be some confidence in the process. He was found guilty by a jury and given numerous appeals which have lasted now for 17 years. That is more than enough "due process."

This whole protracted ordeal is a play straight out of the anti-death penalty establishment playbook. Make achieving the death penalty as expensive and protracted as possible; and hope the public eventually grows weary and gives up.

Bottom line: the system is not perfect and never will be. There is always the remote possibility of "collateral damage." Public highways are not perfect. Innocent lives will be lost. That doesn't mean we close them down or spend every available tax dollar to achieve perfection. Same with air transportation, public hospitals, construction projects, farming, etc.. Innocent people will be hurt or killed. To put the shoe on the other foot, it is a given that with many of the prison reforms advocated by Grits on this forum, some heinous criminals will fall through the cracks and kill innocent people in the process. No amount of money spent can ever completely protect society in this regard and there will likewise be "collateral damage" from reforms which involve lack of incarceration.

At the end of the day, the public still overwhelmingly supports the death penalty even considering the possibility that mistakes have been made. They believe the benefits of the availability of the punishment still outweigh the risk. Seventeen years of "footdragging" in the Skinner case is more than enough.

Dave said...

The sad fact is that too many people have adopted the John Bradley mentality that if the offender was given a trial, the conviction should stand, innocence/exculpatory evidence be damned.

Dave said...

9:38,

In reference to your collateral damage theory better known as the "cracking a few eggs to make an omelet" theory, if you can catch the egg before it breaks, why wouldn't you? You can't predict an airline or vehicle crash, farming accident or whatever else. The same cannot be said for a date with the executioner.

You're right, the system ain't perfect. I ask you, what is wrong with trying to putting safety nets in place?

It's interesting that you argue the time issue. The flip side is that there is no statute of limitations for the prosecution of capital murder, why should we impose an arbitrary one on the appeals process for the same offense? The DNA issue at hand could easily have remedied the case years ago.

Frankly, I don't care if a DA or a tax paying citizen like you or me gets their long johns in a wad if the system analyzes the veracity of a capital conviction. You get what you pay for my friend. The main goal is to see that justice is served, whether that means a person's conviction is upheld or is found to be lacking.

The bottom line as you put it, is making sure we get things right.

When that has happened, I'm all for strapping someone down.

Don said...

Anon: 9:38--Same specious argument. If the man is innocent and can be proven so by DNA evidence, then what difference does it make how many juries and how many appeals he's had? Why not test it? Glad you asked. Because if he is innocent it puts the death penalty one step closer to it's own demise. Death penalty zealots have the fallacies of their thinking exposed. On the other hand, you should be glad SCOTUS did what it did, because if we killed him and it LATER was determined that he was innocent, you'd be in even worse shape. I can't imagine that even Big Chief Happy Hair is not regretting that he gave SCOTUS the opportunity effectively bench-slap him one more time. He could have proven that some of the amazing volume of criticism about him wrong, instead of confirming it beyond a shadow of doubt. The evidence will be tested, which makes it understandable that you guys are biting your nails.

Waste said...

This is all a big waste of money and talent. Skinner killed three people with an axe. There was blood all over the place. They already tested the DNA and it showed Skinner was guilty.

The blood on his pants was tested but now his execution is delayed so they can test the blood on his socks.

How on Earth does Skinner hope the results will be any different than before? Maybe he is hoping that the evidence has degraded or wasn't properly preserved.

Anonymous said...

Waste @12:05, where do you get your information?The DNA that's been tested, a strand of hair in the victim's hand, tends to exonerate Skinner. The hair did not belong to Hank, but to a blood relative of the victim.

Rev. Charles in Tulia

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Waste, if your question is serious and not a disingenuous red herring, the best answer I've seen to it was laid out here.

If you're right that it confirms his guilt, and it very well may, then no harm, no foul. But killing him with this cloud hanging over the case would be a big mistake. There's nothing to fear from the truth for anyone but Hank Skinner, and then only if he's the killer.

If you're unhappy about the delay, blame the prosecution. The main delays in recent years have come from their attempts to avoid DNA testing. This could all end pretty quickly if they'd just say "yes."

Don said...

Waste: You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. The issue before us is whether to test the blood, not Re-test it. It hasn't been tested. Your argument is ridiculous. "The blood on his pants was tested but now his execution is delayed so they can test the blood on his socks" is not true. If you think it is, then tell us how you came by this exclusive bit of info.

Anonymous said...

The blood on Skinner's clothes was dna tested and it matched Twila and Elwin. The blood spatter analysis of his clothes by the defense's own expert said the evidence was inconsistent with Skinner's story of simply laying on the couch while the victims were attacked. He had medium velocity impact spatter on the front of his shirt and and cast off stains on the back. He had impact spatter and cast off stains on all sides of his jeans.

Waste is correct in that the results of any further testing will not change the outcome in that the evidence that he murdered Twila and Elwin doesn't magically disappear. He cannot win on the merits.

Anonymous said...

@ Rev. Charles in Tulia

Uh, no. But I'm too tired to lay it all out. And to call it merely confusing is an understatement.

Susan said...

I wonder if Anon 9:38 would be making the same statements if it was his/her loved one who was wrongfully accused, convicted and sitting on Death Row.

Mark # 1 said...

No Susan, these people are unfortunately lacking the capacity for any "there but for the grace of God go I" in their makeup. So, until and unless their short-sighted, hate-filled, intolerant and regressive philosophy reaches out and snatches then or theirs, they just can't seem to comprehend how screwing over justice for someone else ultimately will screw over justice for everyone. . .But in the short term, why interfere with a good killin'?

R said...

Just from a fiscal point of view wouldn't it have been cheaper to test the DNA evidence (especially since private companies have offered to do it for free) than to pay the cost of fighting Mr. Skinner's right to test it? Its also a win/win for the state. If Mr. Skinner's DNA is found the prosecuters get to go "NAH NAH NAH" to the bleeding heart liberals, if Mr. Skinner is innocent then they get to find the actual murderer. Sorry Texans this makes absolutely no sense to me.

Waste said...

It might not make sense if you consider only this one single case.

The real cost will come later when everyone in TDC convicted with victim's blood DNA on their shirt will now want their bloody socks tested too... they will use the court's ruling in Skinner to support their motions.

This could amount to a LOT of redundant testing and a LOT of business for the labs.

R said...

Waste - If a convicted person believes enough in themselves to pay for any testing what is the problem? And it would be cheaper to test it all then pay court costs to fight the testing so I cannot see a downside. With the amount of people who have been exonerated by DNA testing it should be mandatory that you test evidence more thoroughly. I don't want any agency to incarcerate or kill a human being, in my name since they represent me, if there is the slightest chance they may be innocent.

Boyness said...

Rick Perry is an IDIOT. Assuming he can or would do ANYTHING right is INSANITY. One more time...RICK PERRY IS AN IDIOT!! Any questions?

Waste said...

Try to think of the big picture.

If people who can afford to pay for extra tests are allowed to have extra delay, this creates an inequity problem for those that can't afford to pay. In the end, the taxpayers end up paying for testing everything and the forensic lab that "donated" this test for Skinner gets repaid with a tenfold increase in business. BRILLIANT!

Three people were killed by an axe murderer. There was obviously blood all over everything. Several items were already DNA tested and the results were used to convict Hank Skinner. Mr. Skinner specifically chose NOT to test the remaining items before his trial. His attorney later said the reason was that doing more tests would just create more test results pointing to Skinner so more tests would have just made it that much easier for the State to prove its case. Now that Skinner's execution date approaches he wants to delay as long as possible. He is using anti-death penalty activists as tools to accomplish this delay by manufacturing outrage about the testing.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, I sure wish the open question read "...making sure 'all'..." anyway, thanks for staying with this historic case.

Certain people live their whole lives believing in the criminal justice system and dare not second-guess the police, courts, and procedures. We’ve heard from a few of them here for years as they jump at the opportunity to defend it. Bill White basically said that he is one of these people in one of the televised debates.

Saying he trusted the courts and the decisions the juries hand down. Knowing that this is the same thing Perry believes, I can't & won't vote for either one of them.

*If you interview Mr. White please consider asking him what he'll do with the Clemency Section in regards to criminal justice system reforms. Mainly, will his administration promise to thoroughly vett ‘all’ applicants seeking Full Pardons for innocence. Including; closed cases where ADAs obtained convictions via plea bargains in cases with absolutely nothing to do with DNA, and/or Death Row? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It beggars belief that you would not want to test items which you have in your possession that were used to end the lives of at least two of the victims. Why wasn't this done by the prosecutors at the very beginning?