October 27, 2011 - PRESS

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PRESS

OFFICIALS URGE PERRY TO HALT SKINNER EXECUTION 
 
 THE TEXAS TRIBUNE
 OCTOBER 27, 2011


Officials Urge Perry to Halt Skinner Execution by Brandi Grissom – Texas Tribune October 27, 2011 Hank Skinner was sentenced to death for the 1993 triple slaying of his girlfriend and her two sons. More than a dozen current and former lawmakers, prosecutors, judges, police officers and even a former Texas governor sent a lettertoday calling on Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials to allow for DNA testing death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence. They asked Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer to halt Skinner's scheduled Nov. 9 execution until the testing is done. “There is simply no justifiable reason why Texas continues to waste taxpayer dollars in its decade-long fight to prevent scientific testing in Mr. Skinner’s case,” the group wrote. “We implore you to take the lead in the search for truth in this case.” Skinner was convicted in 1995 of killing his live-in girlfriend and her two sons in Pampa. He has maintained his innocence from the start, arguing that he was too inebriated from a mixture of vodka and codeine to overpower the three victims. He has pleaded with the state for more than a decade to test DNA he argues could show that another man was the killer. The letter sent today and signed by former Gov. Mark White and current state Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, cites the recent DNA-based exoneration of Michael Morton as an example of the importance of scientific analysis. Morton was convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife Christine Morton. He was released from prison this month, after serving nearly 25 years, based on DNA testing that showed another man likely killed Morton’s wife and another Austin woman. Investigators are currently seeking the man implicated by DNA testing in those killings. “Testing the DNA evidence in Mr. Skinner’s case is not only common sense, it is a public safety issue of great consequence,” the letter states. “In Mr. Morton’s case, the DNA testing not only proved his innocence, but identified the true perpetrator of the crime.” In Skinner’s case, DNA evidence presented at the original trial showed his blood was at the scene, and an ex-girlfriend — who later recanted her testimony — told jurors that he confessed to her. Not all the available DNA evidence was tested, though. Among the untested items were a rape kit, biological material from the victim's fingernails, sweat from a man’s jacket resembling one that another potential suspect often wore, a bloody towel and knives. Skinner's trial lawyers worried the results might be incriminating. For a decade, Skinner has sought DNA testing on the additional items, but the state has refused, citing restrictions in Texas' 2001 post-conviction DNA testing law. Last year, less than an hour before he was to be executed, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay. The high court sent the case back to the federal district court to decide whether Skinner's civil rights were being violated by the state's application of the 2001 DNA law. State lawmakers, though, made significant changes to that DNA testing law this year, expanding access and eliminating many of the restrictions the state had previously cited in denying Skinner's requests. In the letter, the group of officials said that change was designed with cases like Skinner’s in mind to eliminate procedural barriers to DNA testing that have “gotten in the way of the search for the truth.” “That legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, not least because polls show that eighty-five percent of Texans agree that prisoners should have broad access to DNA testing,” they wrote. The federal court in Amarillo on Monday indicated that in light of the changes to the law, it would likely leave the DNA decision to the state court. Last month, Skinner's lawyers filed a request in Gray County District Court for DNA testing under the new law. They are now awaiting a decision on that request. The Texas Attorney General's office, which is representing the state, has filed an objection to Skinner's request in state court for DNA testing. The state's lawyers argued that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has already twice denied Skinner's pleas for additional testing and that even if additional testing were done it would not prove Skinner's innocence. Neither Perry’s office nor the Attorney General’s office provided immediate response to the letter. This story will be updated when responses are available. http://www.texastribune.org/texas-dept-criminal-justice/hank-skinner/host-officials-urge-perry-halt-skinner-execution/


October 27, 2011 The Honorable Rick Perry Governor of Texas 1100 San Jacinto Street, Suite 412 Austin, TX 78701 The Honorable Greg Abbott Attorney General of Texas 300 W. 15th Street Austin, TX 78701 The Honorable Lynn Switzer District Attorney, 31st Judicial District of Texas 205 N. Russell Street, Suite 413 Pampa, TX 79065

Dear Governor Perry, Attorney General Abbott and District Attorney Switzer, We, the undersigned current and former elected officials and former prosecutors and judges, write to urge you to test the untested DNA evidence in the Hank Skinner case before proceeding with his execution, presently set for November 9. We are all Texans, and we have great respect for each of you and the offices you hold. At the same time, we all also share grave and growing concerns about the State’s stubborn refusal to date to test all the evidence in the Skinner case. Executing Mr. Skinner without testing all the relevant evidence would suggest official indifference to the possibility of error in this case and needlessly undermine public confidence in Texas’s criminal justice system. We believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for certain crimes, and we understand that the DNA testing might well show that Mr. Skinner is deserving of that punishment. But we are also steadfast in our belief that when it comes to the ultimate penalty, we must do everything in our power to ensure certainty before taking the irreversible step of carrying out an execution. We are not alone in this view. There is widespread public support in Texas for using DNA testing, whenever it is available, to ensure the greatest possible accuracy in our criminal justice system. As you all know, in May the Legislature enacted reforms to Texas’s post-conviction DNA testing law precisely to eliminate procedural barriers that in some cases – like Mr. Skinner’s – had gotten in the way of the search for the truth. That legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, not least because polls show that eighty-five percent of Texans agree that prisoners should have broad access to DNA testing. Testing the DNA evidence in Mr. Skinner’s case is not only common sense, it is a public safety issue of great consequence. This month’s exoneration of Michael Morton, after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment, highlights why state officials should consent to DNA testing when untested evidence is available. In Mr. Morton’s case, the DNA testing not only proved his innocence, but identified the true perpetrator of the crime.


In many cases, there is no DNA evidence available to be tested. That is not true in Mr. Skinner's case. Indeed, there are multiple pieces of key untested evidence found at the crime scene, including a blood- and sweat-stained windbreaker jacket similar to one regularly worn by an alternative suspect; two knives, at least one of which was a likely murder weapon; a bloody towel; the victim’s fingernail clippings, which may have the perpetrator’s blood under them; and swabs from a sexual assault examination kit. There is simply no justifiable reason why Texas continues to waste taxpayer dollars in its decade-long fight to prevent scientific testing in Mr. Skinner’s case. We implore you to take the lead in the search for truth in this case. Test the DNA evidence before moving forward with Mr. Skinner’s execution. If that requires a brief reprieve of Mr. Skinner’s scheduled November 9 execution, that short delay will be a small price to pay to maintain public confidence in Texas’s criminal justice system. Sincerely, Jim Dunnam, Texas State Representative, District 57, 1997-2011; Senior Fellow, Texas First Foundation Rodney Ellis, Texas Senator, District 13, 1990 – present James A. Fry, James Fry P.C. 1982-present; Assistant District Attorney, Dallas County, Texas, 1980-1982; Former Chairman, Texas State Bar Grievance Committee Pete P. Gallego, Texas State Representative, District 74, 1991-present Carlos Garcia, Assistant District Attorney, Starr County, Texas, 1989-1991 Assistant District Attorney, Travis County, Texas, 1991-1995 Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Texas State Senator, District 20, 2002-present Norman E. Lanford, Judge, 339th District Court, 1985 – 1992, Visiting Judge, 1992 - 1997 Kenneth J. Mighell, United States Attorney, Northern District of Texas (1977-1981); Assistant United States Attorney, Northern District of Texas (1961-1977) Sam D. Millsap, Jr., District Attorney, Bexar County, San Antonio, Texas, 1983-1987 Joanne Musick, Assistant District Attorney, Harris County, 1998 – 2003 Earl D. Musick, Houston Police Dept., 1966-1999 (retired as lieutenant) Assistant District Attorney, Harris County Police Department, 1999-2003 Michol O’Connor, Justice, Court of Appeals, First District of Texas, 1988-2000; Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Texas, 1975-1978


Wendell A. Odom, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Harris County, Texas, 1974-1978 Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of Texas, 1978-1982 Morris L. Overstreet, Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 1990-1998; Assistant District Attorney, Potter County, 1975-1980 Nat C. Perez, Jr., Brownsville Police Department, 1980 - 1989; Air Force Military Policeman, 1976-1980 Eddie Rodriguez, Texas State Representative, District 51, 2003-present Mark White, Chairman, Geovox Security, Inc.; Governor of Texas, 1983-1987; Attorney General of Texas, 1979-1983; Secretary of State of Texas, 1973-1977; Partner, Reynolds, White Allen & Cook, 1969-1973; Assistant Attorney General of Texas, 1965-1969