Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Action for Hank Skinner and 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Spring Break

Please scroll down to take action to help stop the execution of Hank Skinner, scheduled for February 24, 2010 in Texas. Read the article below for more information on Hank's case. Don't let Hank become the next Todd Willingham, an innocent person executed in Texas.

Also, take a moment to vote for the Abolish the Death Penalty as an Idea for Change in America at (You will have to register at to vote.) If the idea becomes one of the top ten, will host an event in Washington, DC, where each of the 10 ideas will be presented to representatives of the media, the nonprofit community, and to relevant officials in the Obama Administration. After the announcement, will mobilize the full resources of their staff, their 1 million community members, and their extended network of bloggers to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality.

Finally, if you want to spend four days learning about the death penalty and training to take action, register for the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas. It is designed for high school and college students, but all the workshops and events are open to the public of all ages. We have arranged many interesting speakers, including four innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham and Perry Cobb,
as well as the national director of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope, Susannah Sheffer of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights and Brian Evans from the Washington D.C. office of Amnesty International.

If anyone is interested, you can register at the website

Actions for Hank Skinner:

Sign and send this online petition/email to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Write, call, fax or email your own letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Urge them to stay the execution to allow testing of DNA. In the subject line of your emails or in any letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, write "Attention Case of Hank Skinner #999143"

Hank Skinner is scheduled to be executed in Texas on February 24 for three murders he maintains he didn't commit. Several key pieces of biological evidence from the crime scene have not been tested. DNA testing could prove Skinner's innocence or confirm his guilt, but prosecutors are opposing Skinner's appeals and seeking to execute him.
There are several pieces of probative biological evidence from the crime scene that haven't been tested. Among this untested evidence are hairs from one victim's hand, a rape kit, fingernail clippings and a windbreaker that could have been worn by an alternate suspect. It is crucial that this testing be conducted before Texas carries out a sentence it can't reverse.
DNA testing can prove the truth. It is not a delay tactic or a diversion -- it has the potential to confirm Skinner's guilt or prove him innocent and you would be making a grave mistake to allow Skinner to executed without first conducting DNA tests.

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 512-463-1849
Main number: 512-463-2000
Website email contact form
Clemency Section
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757-6814
Fax (512) 467-0945

Will Texas Soon Execute Another Innocent Man? Our Reporting Challenges Verdict As Clock Ticks

February 12, 2010
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is under fire for allegedly obstructing an investigation into the wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death in 2004 -- despite forensic tests proving he did not murder his three young children.
Four years earlier, Gary Graham was carried to Texas’ death chamber defiantly proclaiming his innocence in the face of new evidence that even the murder victim’s widow called “reasonable doubt.”
Investigative stories have revealed that Ruben Cantu in 1989 and Carlos DeLuna in 1993 likely suffered the same unjust fate at the hands of Texas executioners.
Now the clock is ticking on another Texas death row inmate who has steadfastly maintained his innocence – with credible evidence to support his claim. The condemned man is Henry Watkins “Hank” Skinner, and much of that evidence was unearthed by the Medill Innocence Project and reported in the January 28 and 29 editions of the Texas Tribune, "Case Open" and "Case Open: The Investigation". Yet, Skinner faces death by lethal injection on February 24, less than two weeks from now.
Texas continues to lead the nation in executions. But will the state earn the dubious distinction of executing five innocents in two decades? Hank Skinner’s fate lies in the hands of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Gov. Perry and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here is a synopsis of the case, spotlighting the evidence developed by Medill student-journalists who traveled to Texas’ death row and to the crime scene in search of the truth. For a more detailed account, read my testimony to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and today'sappeal by Skinner's lawyers to the Supreme Court.
I will continue to report about the Skinner case on this site until it reaches finality.
Hank Skinner, January 20, 2010.  Photograph courtesy of The Texas Tribune.Hank Skinner, January 20, 2010
Caleb Bryant Miller, The Texas Tribune
Hank Skinner, age 47, was convicted of bludgeoning to death his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and fatally stabbing her two adult sons in their Pampa, Texas home on New Year's Eve of 1993. Skinner was convicted of the crimes in 1994 and sentenced to death in 1995. He is scheduled to be executed on February 24.
The state's case against Skinner was entirely circumstantial. He has consistently professed his innocence, there was no physical evidence linking him to the murder weapons and no eyewitness or apparent motive for the crime. Skinner indisputably was in the home at the time of the murders, but claims he had passed out from mixing large quantities of alcohol and codeine. When he awoke, he stumbled to a neighbor’s residence to report the murders, according to Skinner.
But the neighbor, Andrea Reed, testified that Skinner made incriminating statements about the crime and ordered her not to call the police. That was enough for the jury to find him guilty, and, although Skinner had no history of violence that would remotely explain the horrific murders (his worst offense was a conviction for assault), he was sentenced to death.
Our investigation
The Medill Innocence Project first became involved in the case in the fall of 1999 when a reporter at the Associated Press in Houston raised questions about Skinner’s guilt. Eight investigative reporting students made two trips to the Panhandle town in 1999-2000 to interview sources and plow through documents. They returned with grave reservations about whether justice had been done.
For one thing, Andrea Reed, the state’s star witness, recanted her trial testimony in an audio-taped interview. Reed told the student-journalists that she had been intimidated by the authorities into concocting a false story against Skinner. “I did not then and do not now feel like he was physically capable of hurting anybody,” Reed said.
For another, toxicology tests on Skinner's blood and statements by experts revealed he would have been nearly comatose on the night of the crimes, certainly lacking the strength, balance and agility to commit the triple homicide. This finding is consistent with Reed’s observation of Skinner when he entered her home after the crime: “He was falling into the walls and stuff. He was staggering, falling into stuff,” she said in the taped interview.
Other residents of Pampa told the student-journalists in videotaped interviews that the more likely perpetrator was Robert Donnell, Twila's uncle. Donnell had been “hitting on” his niece at a New Year’s Eve party shortly before the slayings. Rebuffing his advances, she left the party frightened, her uncle following behind, according to the witnesses. (A close friend of Twila’s said she confided to being raped by her uncle in the past.)
The day after the crime, another witness claimed to have seen Donnell scrubbing the interior of his pick-up truck, removing the rubber floorboards and replacing the carpeting. Perhaps most telling, a windbreaker just like the one the uncle often wore was found at the scene – directly next to his niece’s body. The jacket was covered with human hairs and sweat.
Yet evidence from the windbreaker has never been scientifically tested. Moreover, prosecutors have steadfastly opposed DNA tests on two blood-stained knives, skin cells found underneath Twila’s fingernails, vaginal swabs and hairs removed from her hand – even though forensic tests on one of the hairs proved it did not come from Skinner. (The physical evidence remains sealed, but the courts have acceded to prosecutors’ demands not to conduct the tests.) In a death row interview with the student-journalists, Skinner said he was innocent and welcomed new tests on the old evidence.
"They have no right to kill me because I'm innocent, innocent, innocent."
Hank Skinner to the Texas Tribune, January 28, 2010.
Another troubling aspect of the case is the background of Skinner's trial lawyer, Harold Lee Comer. Formerly the District Attorney of Gray County, Comer had prosecuted Skinner for two offenses, theft and assault. After resigning from office and pleading guilty in a drug scandal, Comer was appointed at taxpayer's expense to represent Skinner at his capital murder trial -- without the required hearing to determine whether he had a conflict-of-interest.
The trial judge, a personal friend of Comer's, paid him roughly the same amount to represent Skinner as the former DA owed to the IRS. Comer failed to request DNA testing, or present compelling evidence about the alternative suspect. And, at the sentencing hearing, he failed to object to using Skinner's prior convictions -- which he had prosecuted -- to justify the death penalty.
When the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the claim that Skinner had been ineffectively represented by Comer, a Texas court set his execution date. In light of the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham, Gary Graham, Ruben Cantu and Carlos DeLuna, the specter of wrongful executions now hangs over Texas' system of capital punishment.
Will Texas next put to death a man who has steadfastly professed his innocence and whose lawyer was his legal adversary -- without even conducting DNA tests to be sure the right man will be punished for the crime?
Not much time will tell.

Register Now for the 2010 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19

Join us March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas for the award-winning Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. It's free, except for a $25 housing fee for those who need us to arrange housing for you. We will house you in a shared room with other spring breakers in either a hotel or dorm. You are responsible for your travel, food and other expenses, but the program and most of the housing costs are on us, except for the $25 housing fee.

Alternative Spring Breaks are designed to give college and high school students something more meaningful to do during their week off, rather than just spending time at the beach or sitting at home catching up on school work. The specific purpose of this Alternative Spring Break is to provide five days of anti-death penalty activism, education and entertainment. This is the place to be if you want to become a part of the next generation of human rights leaders. Go to the beach to change your state of mind for a week, come here to change the world forever.

We will provide participants with workshops led by experienced, knowledgeable presenters who will teach them skills that they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. The skills participants will learn can also be used in other issues besides the death penalty.

Students will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a direct action and media relations. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as an Anti-Death Penalty Lobby Day and a Protest Day with a rally at the Texas Capitol. There will be opportunities to write press releases, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and carry out a protest at the Texas Capitol.

The list of speakers and special guests at the Alternative Spring Break includes:

Shujaa Graham was exonerated in 1981 from California’s death row. As a prisoner at San Quentin in the 70’s, Shujaa became part of the prison activist movement, a reflection of the struggles against racism and injustice in the outside communities. In 1973, because of his leadership in the prison movement, Shujaa was targeted and framed in the murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute in Stockton, California. The community became involved in his defense and supported him throughout four trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene Allen, were sent to San Quentin’s death row in 1976, after a second trial in San Francisco. The district attorney had systematically excluded all African-American jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction.
After spending three years on death row, Shujaa and his co-defendant continued to fight for their innocence. A third trial ended in a hung jury and after a fourth trial, they were found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence in spite of the system. He is a member of the Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing.

Curtis McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after serving 21 years – including 19 years on death row – for a 1982 Oklahoma City murder he didn’t commit. Curtis was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on prosecutorial misconduct and testimony from forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist, whose lab misconduct has contributed to at least two other convictions later overturned by DNA evidence. In 1986, Curtis was convicted of a 1982 murder in Oklahoma City and sentenced to die. Citing misconduct by the prosecutor and a police lab analyst, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction, and Curtis was retried in 1989. He was again convicted and sentenced to death. In 1995, the appeals court upheld his conviction but threw out his death sentence; in 1996, he was sentenced to death again. In 2005, the Court of Criminal Appeals again overturned his conviction, citing the continued pattern of government misconduct – and new DNA tests showing that semen recovered from the victim did not come from McCarty. He has toured and spoken about his case, along with several exonerated prisoners with the Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing
Ron Keine was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death in New Mexico. Along with three co-defendants, Ron Keine was convicted of the murder, kidnapping, sodomy and rape of University of New Mexico student William Velten in 1974 and was sentenced to die in New Mexico’s gas chamber. An investigation by The Detroit News after Ron and his co-defendants were sentenced uncovered lies by the prosecution’s star witness, perjured identification given under police pressure, and the use of poorly administered lie detector tests. Ron spent 22 months on death row until the real killer came forward and confessed. At one point, Ron says, he was so close to going to the gas chamber that an assistant warden came to talk to him about what he wanted for his last meal. In late 1975, a state district judge dismissed the original indictments and the four men were released in 1976 after the murder weapon was traced to a drifter from South Carolina who admitted to the killing. The murder weapon, a 22-caliber pistol, was found only after a search warrant was issued to open the sheriff’s safe. Not only was the murder weapon found, there was also dated evidence showing that the gun was hidden from the defense at the original trial. Since his exoneration, Ron has traveled the country to tell his powerful story of innocence with the Witness to Innocence Project.

Perry Cobb spent eight years on death row in Illinois. On November 13, 1977, Melvin Kanter and Charles Guccion were shot to death during a robbery of a hot dog stand on Chicago's north side. Perry Cobb and Darby Tillis, who knew nothing of the crime, were charged with the murders and sentenced to death. No physical evidence linked either one to the killing. Perry and Darby did not know one another. A 1987 bench trial resulted in the exoneration of Perry Cobb and Darby Tillis. They had endured a record five trials for the same charge and spent eight years on death row.

Bill Pelke is president of Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing. He recently authored a book entitled Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing, which details the May 14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher, by four teenage girls. Paula Cooper who was deemed to be the ringleader was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana. She was fifteen-years-old at the time of the murder.
Pelke originally support the sentence of death for Cooper, but went through a spiritual transformation in 1986 after praying for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. He became involved in an international crusade on Paula's behalf and in 1989 after over 2 million people from Italy signed petitions and Pope John Paul II’s request for mercy, Paula was taken off of death row and her sentence commuted to sixty years.
Bill, a retired steelworker, has dedicated his life to working for abolition of the death penalty. He shares his story of forgiveness and healing, and how he came to realize that he did not need to see someone else die in order to heal from his grandmother’s death. He also helps organize Journey tours nationally and abroad,
Bill has traveled to over forty states and ten countries with the Journey of Hope and has told his story over 5000 times
Steven Crimaldi is the National Coordinator of Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project.
Steven will give a presentation discussing religion and the death penalty. He will also explain the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project and let students know how they can get involved in putting on a production of the play at their schools or in their communities.

DEAD MAN WALKING SCHOOL THEATRE PROJECT integrates the power of theatre arts and academic study into the national discourse on the death penalty to replace ignorance, apathy, and cynicism among young people regarding the death penalty with information, introspection, and inspiration.

Previously, Steven entered the Jesuit novitiate in Grand Coteau, Louisiana after earning a Master’s in Theological Studies in Cambridge, MA. Prior to his life with the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project and the novitiate, Crimaldi worked for Sen. Chuck Schumer in Washington, DC. He is also a poet.

Susannah Scheffer of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights will present a workshop at Alternative Spring Break on mental illness and the death penalty and specifically on MVFHR's "Prevention, Not Execution" project. MVFHR last July issued a report entitled "DOUBLE TRAGEDIES: Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty for People with Severe Mental Illness".

Susannah has developed numerous written materials about victim opposition to the death penalty, including Dignity Denied: The Experience of Murder Victims' Family Members Who Oppose the Death Penalty and "I Don't Want Another Kid to Die": Families of Victims Murdered by Juveniles Oppose the Juvenile Death Penalty, both of which were co-authored with Renny Cushing. She is the author of four books, and in her work with MVFHR she draws upon two decades of experience interviewing, writing, and editing.

Brian Evans of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. Before moving to Washington, DC, in 2006 and taking a job with Amnesty International, Brian was a founding member of Texas Moratorium Network.
Mary K. Poirier, B.S.W., M.S.W. (cand.) is a capital trials mitigation specialist. Her work saves people from being sentenced to death. She will talk about working on capital trial teams with lawyers and investigators, as well as how activists can support legal teams. She works for the McCallister Law Firm in Missouri and has worked on capital trials in several states, including Texas. She been a trial mitigation specialist for 5 years and a board member for Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty for 2 years. Visit her law firm's website by clicking here.

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