Dallas Morning News Editorial: Hold up Hank Skinner Execution for DNA Tests
Please call Gov Rick Perry at (512) 463-2000 and urge him to stop the execution of Hank Skinner on March 24, 2010 by granting a 30-day stay of execution so that DNA evidence can be tested. Call anytime day or night and leave message on voice mail.
The state's determination to execute Hank Skinner tomorrow should make even death-penalty supporters go pale.
The Skinner case
The crime: Twila Busby, 40, was beaten to death in 1993, and her grown sons Elwin Caler and Randy Busby were stabbed to death, in her Pampa home.
Incrimination: Her boyfriend, Hank Skinner, 31, a petty criminal, had blood on his shirt the next morning and was charged with capital murder.
Defense: His attorneys said he had consumed too much alcohol and drugs to do the killings, and they pointed to another possible suspect.
Untested evidence: Appellate attorneys seek DNA tests on two knives found at the scene, a bloody dishtowel, hairs in Ms. Busby's hands, her fingernail clippings, a vaginal swab and a windbreaker jacket.
Key evidence in the 1993 murder case has never undergone DNA analysis. Skinner may be guilty of a bloody triple slaying in Pampa, but every sliver of doubt must be eliminated before the state exercises its life-or-death authority.
We trust that Gov. Rick Perryagrees with that, and we urge him to use the power of his office to postpone tomorrow's planned execution as insurance against miscarriage of justice. The TexasBoard of Pardons and Paroles decided against Skinner on Monday, which means a temporary reprieve by the governor may be the last chance to buy time to carry out critical forensic tests. State courts and the prosecution have thwarted proper DNA analysis, but Perry ought to send the message that Texas settles for nothing less than absolute certainty.
If Perry is concerned about appearing soft on crime during his re-election campaign, he could cite the example of his immediate predecessor.
It was June 2000, and Gov. George W. Bushwas running for president. The national media and legal community were watching intently how he handled the case of death-row inmate Ricky McGinn, facing execution in the rape and murder of his stepdaughter in Brown County. McGinn, too, sought forensic tests on evidence in the case, and Bush granted a last-hour reprieve to allow for DNA analysis that was unavailable at the time of trial.
Bush said about his decision: "Any time DNA evidence can be used in its context and be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it."
As it turned out, test results backed up prosecutors in the McGinn case. Less than four months later, McGinn went to the death chamber with no questions of innocence hovering.
The Skinner appeal is more complicated; it involves credible charges of falsified trial testimony as well as post-trial evidence that allegedly points to a different suspect, a relative of the victim with a history of violence.
What's more, there was no DNA testing of a long list of physical evidence, including hair found in the one of the victim's hands and fingernail clippings, which could point to the identity of the killer.
Any responsible person asked to pass judgment on Skinner's role in the slayings would want to see the results of tests on these items. Justice for the victims demands it as well.
The governor stands with the majority of Texans in support of the death penalty, a position this newspaper does not share. We think a fallible justice system should not be in the business of extinguishing life.
Despite that difference in philosophy, there must be common ground in one regard: The finality of Texas justice should be airtight.