"Evidence Missing in Skinner Case," is Jordan Smith's post in the Austin Chronicle, our independent alt-weekly on the stands today.
Just two weeks after the state announced it would drop its opposition to the post-conviction DNA testing of evidence in the capital murder case that sent Hank Skinner to death row, comes news that at least one piece of evidence Skinner has been seeking access to for testing has been lost. Among the key pieces of evidence never before tested, and that Skinner has sought access to for more than a decade, is a blood- and sweat-stained windbreaker found near the body of his girlfriend Twila Busby. The windbreaker is now apparently missing. "We are pleased to have reached an agreement that finally secures DNA testing in this case, but there remains reason for grave concern," Skinner's attorney Rob Owen said in a press statement. "According to the State, every other 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. To date, the State has offered no explanation for its failure to safeguard the evidence in this case."
Indeed, in addition to 40 items of evidence that have never before been tested for DNA is the windbreaker found next to the body of Busby, who was slaughtered along with her two sons, in the Pampa home she shared with Skinner. There are photos of the windbreaker, a tan jacket with snap buttons down the front, but the windbreaker itself has disappeared – and no one seems to know how or when it was misplaced, or where it might've gone. The Gray County Sheriff's Office says it has never had custody of the jacket; Gary Noblett, from the Pampa Police Department, a 41-year law enforcement veteran who now manages the department's evidence, says that everything the Pampa PD had stored as evidence in the case was eventually transported for Skinner's original trial. After Skinner was convicted the evidence was moved back to Gray County, he said, but "somehow or another" the windbreaker never made it back. He says the PD has fielded questions about the missing windbreaker for three or four years – at some point including questions from the AG's office – but "as far as I know, no one's ever been able to find that thing."
All evidence is to be transported to the Texas Department of Public Safety lab in Lubbock, where it will be inspected by lawyers for both parties before any testing begins. Any unknown DNA profile found as a result of the testing will be run through state and national databases, if possible, and followed by the issuance of a report by DPS documenting the test results and DNA comparisons. Forty-five days after all of the data has been reported to the parties a hearing on the matter will be held in Gray County.
Earlier coverage of Hank Skinner and the Joint Motion for DNA testing in his case begins at the link.