(UPDATE: The Supreme Court blocked Skinner’s execution only hours before it was to be carried out. This will allow for the DNA evidence in Skinner’s case to be tested.)
Henry “Hank” Skinner had enough alcohol and codeine in his system the night of Dec. 31, 1993 to put most people in a coma. Despite his likely inability to stand, Skinner was charged and convicted of the murder of his girlfriend and her two sons that night. While Skinner was convicted on incriminating evidence such as being at the crime scene and leaving bloody palm prints behind, crucial DNA evidence that would certainly be tested in a current investigation, went untested during his trial.
Now it is up to Gov. Rick Perry to decide whether to delay the execution long enough to be sure that this man is guilty before the state of Texas puts him to death. Perry’s silence is stunning, especially after an Arizona lab offered to do the testing for free. The people of Texas deserve to know the truth of the matter before executing a possibly innocent man. The DNA evidence that Skinner claims will exonerate him include a vaginal swab from the victim and her fingernail clippings, and the two kitchen knives used to stab her sons to death. The idea that someone can be sentenced to death row without having key genetic evidence tested is a profound injustice with the availability of DNA technology and shows a blatant disregard for the court’s obligation to seek out the truth.
The only possible harm to extending a man’s life long enough to be absolutely sure that he is guilty is to Perry’s self-image as tough on crime. He can’t even argue that it will cost taxpayers too much to do the test. Phoenix based Chromosomal Laboratories told Perry that they would do the testing for free and would have results within 30 days, if Perry would be willing to delay Skinner’s execution.
Perhaps Perry is using his silence as a political tactic, or maybe he genuinely doesn’t care, but either way, putting a man to death who could be innocent of his conviction is just morally wrong. Even the starkest death penalty supporters should agree that capital punishment should be used against people who commit capital offenses. Wasn’t one of the main points of forming the United States, to make sure a tyrant couldn’t just kill off whomever he saw fit for political gain?
All of this comes after the highly controversial execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. In 2004 Perry denied a request to delay Willingham’s execution despite the fact that arson experts had determined that the investigation convicting Willingham was flawed.
Maybe Perry will have a change of heart and give Skinner the chance to prove himself innocent. But while Perry twiddles his thumbs, Skinner’s execution date looms with hours left.
Check out The Innocence Project for more information on Skinner’s case.