Monday, May 24, 2010

SCOTUS to review Hank Skinner case

Radley Balko lets us know that:

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari to Hank Skinner, a Texas death row inmate who is trying to get access to DNA evidence that he claims will clear his name.

The Court has already ruled that there is no constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing, but Skinner’s claim is that he’s entitled to the testing under federal civil rights law.

Interestingly, it was Justice Scalia who first stayed Skinner’s execution in March. Scalia has written in a couple of opinions now that the U.S. Constitution does not prevent the government from executing an innocent person.

[Balko] wrote about Skinner’s case in February.

I have no opinion regarding Skinner's guilt or innocence; I simply haven't followed the case closely enough to say one way or the other. But if only to avoid a repeat of the Todd Willingham fiasco - where credible evidence that he was convicted based on flawed forensics wasn't seriously considered until after his execution - and to preserve the integrity of the system in the public eye, it's important the testing be done before Skinner executed.

That's as much in the interest of the pro-death penalty movement as it is Hank Skinner. Why risk an embarrassing, damaging "Oops" after the fact if it's possible to doublecheck potentially exonerating leads on the front end?

I'd have thought after the Willingham mess that Texas courts and the Governor might have learned this lesson, but they seem doomed to repeat history rather than learn from it. Very frustrating. With Nietzche's Zarathustra, one sometimes wonders, "Must one smash their ears before they learn to listen with their eyes?"

RELATED: See Michael Landauer's latest on the case from the Dallas News Death Penalty Blog.


Anonymous said...

The guy could have had the evidence tested at trial, but chose not to. I wonder why. You cannot allow this sort of gamesmanship.

Moreover, he should have raised his 1983 claim with state courts. State courts have to deal with 1983 claims, and he could have appealed the denial then.

Unknown said...

Process trumps truth eh, 1:53?

Or should I say, Mr. Bradley?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:53, it's my understanding that he asked that it be tested before trial. Repeatedly. In writing.

His lawyer refused because in his judgement (maybe influenced by the fact that he had been until very recently the county DA, maybe not) the result would be harmful to his client.

So you don't have to wonder why. He tried and his lawyer said no.

I don't know if Skinner is guilty or not, but it's not reasonable to infer some deviousness on his part in the fact that the evidence has yet to be tested.

Anonymous said...

".. Scalia has written in a couple of opinions now that the U.S. Constitution does not prevent the government from executing an innocent person."

yeah I know this, but GD, that is F'in scary.

If this is so, even in our highest court, then we definitely have the wrong form of government in the 21st century.

doran said...

How about it, 1:53, did "the guy" ask for testing in the trial court or not? You seem so knowledgeable about the case, just thought I'd ask for a clarification.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Skinner one of the DR inmates caught with a cell phone in his rectum?

Anonymous said...

Trial counsel explained that he did not ask for testing because he was afraid the DNA would turn out to be appellant's. The federal district court found that an incriminating DNA test result of biological material from some of the items, such as from the knife handle, or under Twila's fingernails, or found clutched in her hand, would have been highly probative, incriminating evidence for the prosecution. The court also concluded that conducting its own DNA test would also have deprived the defense of its primary argument at trial that the government conducted a shoddy investigation.

-all from the appellate opinion

Anonymous said...

" incriminating DNA test result of biological material from some of the items, such as from the knife handle, or under Twila's fingernails, or found clutched in her hand, would have been highly probative, incriminating evidence for the prosecution."

That begs the question...why didn't the prosecution test it?

doran said...

Prosecutorial gamesmanship???

sunray's wench said...

"That begs the question...why didn't the prosecution test it?"

Actually, it begs the question: why isn't there an independent evidence gathering body instead of a defender and prosecutor? Why is there not full disclosure of all the available facts at the first trial, instead of someone waiting years to convince the courts to look at evidence that was available originally?

Anonymous said...


Zoroaster also said: "But thus I counsel you, my friends: Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful."

I cannot find the logic in refusing to test anything, at any point, unless by waiting years that evidence somehow deteriorates. I also agree that we cannot allow this sort of 'gamesmanship'. Its not a game; it's a life.
To be certain is in everyone's interest, and if certainty already exists on one side, it should not lessen the desire to strengthen the perception of doing the right thing for a multitude of reasons.
To worry about the fact that some offenders might attempt to manipulate just seems so petty considering that it would not be human not to attempt to maneuver for your own life.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, those who want to debate the details of the case should go to Michael Landauer's shop - he's been following the blow by blow much more closely for those who want to discuss procedural issues, etc..

TDCJEX said...

Sunray, if we were to have such a thing there would be far fewer convictions and far less extreme sentences .We might also learn just how far the cops and prosecutors are willing go to secure as many convictions as possible . They forget that their job is to seek justice not convict who ever they can and make the evince fit the states theory . .

The state will refuse to admit it is wrong and blame every one it can to avoid doing so .
Now Skinner might not be the most likeable guy in the world but if he did not commit the murder let the guy go .

The state is acting as if it has something to hide. If the states is so worried about lots appeals and having testing done the state should do every thing in it's power to get it right the first time .

R. Shackleford said...

This is why, if accused of a truly heinous crime, I'd be in Paraguay before you could say "miscarriage of justice".

sunray's wench said...

TDCJEX ~ I just really struggle to understand that mind set. I can just about get my head round the whole Americans and guns thing, I am not against the death penalty in extreme circumstances, and I understand capitalism as a distinct entity apart from democracy, but the idea that it is OK to convict someone who only "probably" did a crime, especially when you ignore the possibility of evidence that would suggest otherwise or based on the idea that they did something else that you can't prosecute them for so you'll get them on this instead, is just a step too far for my poor European brain to comprehend.

Scott Stevens said...

Scalia's attituge is a far cry from the attitude my very conservative Air Force Sergeant father and my mother taught me:

"Better to release 10 guilty men than to convict one innocent."

TDCJEX said...

Sunray to explain all of that I would have to write a book . I highly recommend Texas Tough . It is very well written and researched . Here is a link Yo u will also see why TDCJ will not allow it prisoners to read it . They might get ideas and maybe even file a successful lawsuit ,Hint that is going to happen eventually book or not. What makes any one think convicts do not know what is going on .

Reading the site is informative but the book is extremely insightful into why we have mass incarceration revenge and a revolving door . In part prison and the so called legal system that sends those ople there make billions from human suffering and misery.

There are huge interests in maintaining the status quo and locking up as many humans as possible as wel as making sure more are now convicted felons who are forever marked as not good and irredeemable by right wing political and religious groups that have arrested interest in even more felonies and more humans either in prison or under the states control .

Guns well I cant own them and even if I could I really don't have any need to .I do not live in fear I of some “criminal” lurking and just waiting to do horrific things I live in very rural town in a large western state . In fact My neighbors doi not own guns though they could .they simply see no need for it . The fact is it is unlikely you will be a victim of a violent crime . I did not hear convict talking about it they might be worried about a rival in the drug game out gunning them but not the average person .Now if you are involved with illegal drugs you chances of being a victim of crime is greatly increased. At least at the level we are talking about and what we currently call crimes . That is a whole different topic .

For what it is worth
Scalia is not a conservative he is a fascist if people bother to look up the term .

Malcolm Lemonjello said...

The Justices should have read before agreeing to the certiorari. Too bad Hank Skinner is the test case here.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Malcolm, I doubt that website would have convinced justices one way or another even if they'd seen it. It's just as biased and slanted as they accuse Skinner's supporters of being.

That's the good thing about DNA testing - DNA doesn't have a political agenda. So if the testing is done and it doesn't support Skinner's case, c'est la vie.

There have been quite a few DNA exonerees whose innocence appeared unlikely (if remotely possible) before testing was granted, only to be later proven innocent. Maybe this is such a case, maybe not, but the only way to know for sure is to test the DNA, not just read a website whose rage-filled operators don't reveal their identity.