Earlier this month, the State of Texas reversed course after a decade of fighting additional testing of DNA evidence in Hank Skinner's case. This afternoon, a Joint Motion for testing was filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals. It's available in Adobe .pdf format, as are two photos of evidence.
Hank Skinner's attorney, Rob Owen, has released a "Statement in Response to Today's Filing of a Joint Motion to Vacate and Remand in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals."
"We are pleased to have reached an agreement that finally secures DNA testing in this case, but there remains reason for grave concern. It appears that no DNA testing will be performed on perhaps the key piece of evidence collected by the police at the crime scene - the sweat-stained, blood-spattered men's windbreaker jacket found next to Twila Busby's body. From the earliest days of his fight for DNA testing, Mr. Skinner has insisted that this jacket should be tested because it may have been worn by the assailant. Moreover, since trial, a witness has positively identified the jacket from a photograph as one regularly worn by Twila Busby's uncle Robert Donnell who was seen stalking Twila at a party shortly before her death. It is beyond reasonable dispute that DNA testing on this jacket is critically important to the reliable determination of guilt in this case.
"According to the State, every other single piece of evidence in this case has been preserved. It is difficult to understand how the State has managed to maintain custody of items as small as fingernail clippings, while apparently losing something as large as a man's windbreaker jacket. To date, the State has offered no explanation for its failure to safeguard the evidence in this case. Nor have State officials explained why, during the many court proceedings in which Mr. Skinner sought access to the evidence for DNA testing, they repeatedly avowed that the evidence Mr. Skinner sought to test existed and was in a condition to permit such testing.
"The press and the public should demand answers to these questions."
Owen is a Visiting Clinical Professor at the Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University Law School, and Co-Director of the Death Penalty Center at the University of Texas School of Law.
"Texas agrees to DNA testing in '93 slaying of 3," is the AP report filed by Nomaan Merchant, via the Houston Chronicle.
Authorities will seek to test knives, blood samples and other evidence in the case of a Texas Panhandle man on death row for the New Year's Eve slayings of his girlfriend and her two grown sons, according to a court motion filed Tuesday.
Hank Skinner once came within an hour of execution for the 1993 killings of Twila Busby and her sons in Pampa, about 50 miles northeast of Amarillo. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last stayed his execution in November.
Skinner's attorneys have argued that several pieces of untested evidence should be examined for DNA. Until this month, the Texas attorney general's office had dismissed requests for testing as a stalling tactic. The attorney general reversed its objection to testing in a one-paragraph advisory filed June 1, weeks after the criminal appeals court heard arguments on the proposed testing.
On Tuesday, both sides filed a joint motion asking the court to send the case back to a lower court to make way for testing. The motion included a proposed order with 40 items that would eventually be tested.
"The parties have reached an accord intended to resolve the dispute pending before this Court, which makes it necessary for the Court to address the issues presented by Mr. Skinner's appeal," the motion said.
The list of items includes vaginal swabs taken from Busby during her autopsy, two knives found in and around the Busby home and underwear from her dead sons, Elwin Caler and Randy Busby. All of the items listed are already in the custody of authorities, according to the court filing.
Authorities say they cannot locate another piece of evidence that Skinner's backers see as crucial — a windbreaker found at the crime scene that may have resembled one worn by a possible alternate suspect, Busby's now-deceased uncle. The proposed order submitted Tuesday said authorities would continue to search for the jacket after the order was approved.
The state said in the motion it had conducted a "thorough search" and would offer the chance to call witnesses at a court hearing if the jacket can't be found.
"Both Sides in Skinner Case Ask Court For DNA Test," is the Texas Tribune post by Morgan Smith.
Attorneys for the state of Texas and death row inmate Hank Skinner have filed a joint motion with the Court of Criminal Appeals to send his case back to district court so he can obtain DNA testing.
"The parties have reached an accord intended to resolve the dispute pending before the Court, which makes it unecessary for the Court to address the issues presented by Mr. Skinner's appeal," the filing reads. (Download the filing to the left.)
Skinner was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.
The Court of Criminal Appeals must grant the motion before anything can proceed. It is a step in the right direction for Skinner, who has fought since 2000 to allow DNA testing on crime scene evidence that was not analyzed at his original trial. But in a statement, his attorney Rob Owen cautioned "there remains reason for grave concern."
No DNA testing will be performed on what Owen called "perhaps the key piece of evidence" collected at the crime scene, the sweat and blood stained men's windbreaker jacket found next to Busby's body, because it has been lost.
"State, Skinner's attorneys agree to test 40 items from triple slaying," by Bobby Cervantes for the Amarillo Globe-News.
In November, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Skinner’s execution for the third time since 1995 to consider how changes to the state’s post-conviction DNA law would affect his requests for testing, which he has said will exonerate him.
Some items are in the possession of GeneScreen/Orchid Cellmark, an international genetic testing company, and others remain with the Wheeler County court reporter and the Gray County Sheriff’s Office, the order said.
If the DNA on the evidence does not link Skinner, Busby or her two children to the items, DPS investigators will run a profile search through federal and state DNA databases. The laboratory must notify the state and Skinner’s attorney if any other individual’s DNA can be linked to the evidence, the order said.
Earlier coverage of Hank Skinner's case begins at the link.