Hank Skinner, 18 years on Texas Death Row and most likely innocent!

English: Allan B. Polunsky Unit Español: Unida...

English: Allan B. Polunsky Unit Español: Unidad Allan B. Polunsky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is more than a year and a half year ago that Troy Davis was executed. He was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer. It was one of those executions that caused a lot of outrage. Witnesses in the trial later claimed they were forced to testify things they actually never saw, members of the jury later said they would have never found him guilty if they would have known back then, what they knew now. Davis was executed anyway because he was found guilty. Not actual guilt was the reason, but the fact that he was found guilty was the reason. Troy Davis is dead now. And my question is if we are going to let something like that happen again?

A justice system is meant to do justice. They should get it right. Unfortunately it is not always the case that doing the right thing and trying to find out what really happened has the highest priority. Often it seems to be more important to get it over with and close a case, even if many questions remain unanswered.

This is for obvious reasons especially wrong in death penalty cases. You have to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt before execution can even be considered. In many death penalty cases we know beyond any doubt that the one who is convicted is guilty. This post is not meant to claim that the best human beings on the planet are all living on Death Row. It is meant to discuss one case in which it is not a fact that someone is guilty, but a theory. A theory that became more and more unlikely.

This post is about the Hank Skinner case. A man convicted for triple murder almost two decades ago. He has been on Texas Death Row ever since. There is a lot of information about this case online, feel free to read as much as you want. What I will write here are facts, what I want to create is awareness. Any innocent person on Death Row could be you or me. Any person who’s guilt is not proven beyond reasonable doubt, is innocent.

Hank Skinner was at home New Years Eve 1993, as his live-in girlfriend Twila Busby and her two sons were murdered in his house. Blood spatters from two of the victims were found on Skinner’s clothes. His DNA was found on a lot of objects in the house and instead of calling the police once he found out what happened, he fled the scene and went to his neighbor, Andrea Joyce Reed. He then supposedly threatened to kill her if she would call the police. Reed would later be a key witness in the trial. A pretty clear case, one would think. But we are not done yet.

Things are not always what they seem to be. A couple of issues that will follow have been discussed during Skinner’s trial, but many haven’t. Some information was ignored by his representation back then, other information was not yet available. There is a lot of crucial information the jury had not seen as they found him guilty.

Skinner claims, and blood tests confirm, that he was in a comatose condition from a near lethal dose of codeine and alcohol when the murders took place. He was lying passed out on the sofa. A friend of both Skinner and the victims came to visit them on the night of the murders and confirmed that, as he arrived, Hank Skinner was sleeping on the sofa and there was absolutely no way to wake him up. He was in a coma. That friend therefore, took one of the victims, Twila Busby, to a party, where several witnesses saw that she was stalked by her uncle, Robert Donnell. Remember that name.

Donnell had a hot temper and had used violence before. On the night of the murder he was seen harassing Twila Busby which scared her off so much that she left the party not long after she arrived there. She went home and was slaughtered to death shortly after that.

As the police arrived on the scene they decided within minutes that everything pointed to Hank Skinner as the murderer. They didn’t feel the need to test a lot of evidence they found. A jacket with blood on it, a knife, the murder weapon, none of it was tested. Skinner did it anyway. They arrested him a couple of hours later in the house he fled to.

As officers wanted to take his photograph they had to hold him upright, because he was still not able to stand on his own feet. Toxicologists would testify that with the level of alcohol and codeine found in Skinner’s blood, it was physically impossible that he could have committed the murders. Three adult victims were slaughtered to death, while Skinner could barely stand on his feet.

This statement was at the trial undermined by a key witness, neighbor Joyce Reed, who claimed Skinner had developed resistance to alcohol and codeine. Her opinion was not based on science and not backed up by experts. But the jury believed it. Reed was the neighbor who had also said that Skinner had threatened to kill her if she called the police, a statement that had to prove that he had something to hide. Skinner was found guilty and sentenced to death.

But after the trial the key witness recanted her testimony and claimed that the police had threatened to charge her as an accomplice in the murder unless she would testify things that were not completely correct. A tactic that is unfortunately used a lot. We have seen the same in the Troy Davis case.

Without her testimony, the toxicologist’s statement that Skinner could never have committed the murders still stands. Without her testimony Skinner did not threaten to kill her if she would call the police. Without her testimony key evidence is not evidence anymore. Time for a new trial you would think, but there is more.

From the moment the investigation started Hank Skinner has been the only suspect. It was his house, he left the scene so he did it. Therefore the only things that have been tested were objects that would incriminate him. Objects that could point to other suspects were not investigated, not tested and totally ignored.

It is a fact that Skinner’s DNA was found on several objects in the house, but then again, he lived there. Blood spatters of two victims were also found on Skinner’s clothes. But if you are in the middle of a crime scene, and one of the victims who at that point was still alive, tries to wake you up to ask for help, of course you will have his blood on your clothes. And yes, if you are innocent and you flee from a crime scene and stumble to the neighbor, it does not look good. But is it unimaginable that someone who almost had a lethal dose of codeine and alcohol, does not have the clear mind to do what makes most sense?

The most disturbing things are yet to come.

Skinner has always claimed he is innocent. His defense team has asked for additional DNA testing for ten years. Texas has always refused to do further testing and claimed that Skinner was just trying to delay his execution. An argument that would make sense if someone starts asking for additional testing a day before his execution, but not if someone has been asking for it for ten years. The claim that Skinner did not ask for testing during his trial and thereby lost that right also makes no sense. Just because you had bad representation during a trial, does not mean you should pay for that with your life. Furthermore, if there are so many objects not tested yet and a key witness recants her testimony, it is kind of the job of the Justice System to make absolutely sure they got it right, before they want to kill someone.

In 2010, half an hour before his execution, the Supreme Court granted Skinner a stay. A year later Supreme Court ordered that inmates have the right to post-trial DNA testing in case important things remain unclear. This ruling was a victory for Skinner who had always claimed there had to be another person’s DNA on several objects. And now Texas was forced to give the opportunity to test those objects. With no options left to execute Skinner straight away, Texas made a deal to do some additional testing. And this is where this case gets really disturbing.

A couple of months ago Texas released the first results. On a knife used in the murders they found Skinner’s DNA, which was clear from the start because Skinner always used it in his kitchen. The defense knew that but wanted to test it to see if there was also DNA on it that belonged to someone else. And guess what? The prosecution had to admit they also found DNA from one of the victims and from an unidentified third person on the murder weapon. Something the Skinner defense had been fighting for all those years. Now there was scientific evidence that there was another person involved. They finally had it. But instead of investigating that an unknown person’s DNA is found on a murder weapon, the prosecution ignored it and stated that Skinner’s DNA was also found on his own kitchen knife. Not really breaking news if your DNA is on your knife, but the prosecution claims that it proves his guilt and ignores the other DNA that was found on it.

And it gets worse.

The most important thing the Skinner defense team wanted to test all those years is a jacket with a lot of blood spatters on it. The jacket was also found at the crime scene and has never been tested. Skinner has always claimed it was not his jacket, it also does not fit him. This is where I go back to Robert Donnell, the uncle of the victim who has been seen stalking her, the night of the murder.

Several witnesses claim that the jacket found at the crime scene was a jacket that belonged to the uncle of the victim. Many people have seen him wear it. After a ten year battle in which the prosecution refused to test it, Skinner finally was given the right to test it. And exactly at that moment the prosecution claimed to have ‘lost’ the jacket. It can’t be tested. Exactly at the moment they were finally forced to test it, all of a sudden it disappeared.

And to make this case even more disturbing, once they started to find DNA from an unknown person on objects from the crime scene, the prosecution immediately decided to stop additional DNA testing.

The uncle, Robert Donnell, who stalked the victim on the night of the murder and who had a jacket that was found on the crime scene, died a couple of years after the murders. The Skinner defense had always pointed at him as a suspect but the prosecution never wanted to investigate it. And now there is no way they can ever ask him anything. He’s dead.

The prosecution once used a key witness who later recanted her testimony. The prosecution initially only tested things that would very likely have Skinner’s DNA on it anyway. For ten long years the prosecution refused to test objects they found on the crime scene that could point to another suspect. Once forced to, the results of DNA testing actually did point to another person. The prosecution ‘lost’ the single most important object the defense wanted to test, which happened to be a jacket full of blood, that according to witnesses belonged to the uncle of the victim, who by coincidence has been seen stalking her on the night of the murder. The prosecution ignores scientists who claim Skinner could never have committed these murders in the condition he was in.

And as I write this Hank Skinner is on Death Row in Texas. The prosecution still wants to execute him.

This is not a discussion about the death penalty. People will always disagree on that. But let’s at least agree that before we execute someone, we first have to be sure that he or she is actually guilty. I have tried to give as much information as I can. There is more information online, feel free to check it out.

The prosecution stopped additional testing once they started to find DNA from a different person. That says a lot because it proves that their focus is not on doing justice, but on winning this case, no matter if they are right or not.

The defense wants to do more testing. The more DNA from that unknown person will be found, the more likely it is that a judge won’t allow an execution to take place. DNA testing is expensive and now that Texas refuses to do it, because it undermines their case, the defense has to pay for it. If they can’t, there will be no more testing. For those who can afford it and who are convinced that this case has nothing to do with justice, you can go to http://www.hankskinner.org/hs/hs.php?en,help to see how you can help, by creating awareness, inform your network or donate.

Although I am convinced that Skinner is innocent, that is not even the question. The question is if he is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The question is if, looking at all the evidence, there is no possible doubt about his guilt. Decide for yourself if that is the case and if you don’t think so and you’re in the situation to help in whatever way you can. I hope you will.

You can literally help save the life of someone who is probably just as innocent as you are.

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As long as the Justice system in Texas is not doing its job, Supreme Court should Stay all executions.

English: Allan B. Polunsky Unit Español: Unida...

English: Allan B. Polunsky Unit Español: Unidad Allan B. Polunsky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a very important thing in a democracy to have a fair and honest Justice System. Like all systems a Justice System has its mistakes. That is unfortunate, especially in Death Penalty cases. In some cases it’s absolutely sure that a suspect is the murderer. In other cases a verdict is based on circumstantial evidence. There is no real evidence. These are the cases where the justice system often goes wrong, especially in Texas.

No State has as many executions as Texas. No State even comes close. There are two reasons for that. One is that Texas has the ‘law of parties’ which says that if you’re involved in a crime in which someone else kills a person, you are just as responsible for that as the murderer. You’re going to steal candy, you don’t even know the person who joins you has a gun, he shoots someone and you end up on Death Row. Because of this law there are more people on Death Row in Texas than in other States, because everyone involved will probably end up there.

There is another reason why Texas executes more people than other States. And that is something to worry about. There are enough cases that prove that the prosecutors and the entire Justice System in Texas are more focused on closing a case and finding someone guilty than on finding the right one guilty. There are examples where the Justice System in Texas went completely wrong and instead of a thorough investigation to make sure those mistakes will never happen again, Texas prefers to not comment on it. Circumstantial evidence is often so thin that pretty much any other Justice System would release the suspects. But not in Texas. Texas wants to execute them.

If I would have to write about everything I think is wrong with the Justice System in Texas this would be the longest blog post ever. Structural bad representation for those who never had a chance in life anyway, racial issues, there are so many things wrong that I sometimes wonder why Amnesty International hasn’t got its headquarters in Texas yet. In this post I will give a couple examples of cases that prove that Texas is not even trying to get it right.

Famous is the Cameron Todd Willingham case. For those who don’t know the case, Willingham is dead. He was executed in 2004. Convicted for the murder of his three kids by arson in 1991. A local Texas Justice guy who knew little about arson testified it was arson. Pretty much all other experts said it was not. Later, but still before the execution, arson experts were even able to disprove arson. Their report was on Texas Governor Rick Perry’s desk as he gave the green light for the execution. A couple of days after the execution the Prosecutor who got him convicted said “I know there was not that much evidence but he was a bad man, he listened to heavy metal” and he also said “I think he might have done it.” That is probably what they call “beyond reasonable doubt” in Texas.

The execution took place in an election year and with the Texas hardcore pro-Death Penalty population, Rick Perry probably didn’t want to stop it, even though he had scientific proof on his desk that Willingham didn’t do anything wrong. He was a father who lost three kids because of a fire, and now he also lost his own life because of it. A committee was installed to investigate this execution and one day before the committee was going to release their findings, Rick Perry fired the entire committee and never spoke about the case again. It’s pretty much a confession.

There are a lot of inmates on Death Row in Texas, waiting for execution. Some are guilty beyond any doubt, but there are many examples of inmates who’s guilt was never really proven. I am not saying they are all innocent but that is not the question. The question is if their guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The Hank Skinner case might be the most famous one. Skinner spent the last 17 years on Death Row for the murder of his girlfriend and her two children. Skinner claims to be innocent. He says he was drunk from a mix of alcohol and medicine, slept on the couch while they were murdered and woke up in a crime scene. Skinner had a wound on his hand, which could be from the murder, but also from any other thing that from time to time happens to all of us. Who has never had a wound?

In the time the murder occurred there was no such thing as DNA testing but ever since there is DNA testing the Skinner Defense team has been asking for a test for more than ten years. Texas refused to test over and over again. Skinner has at one point been twenty minutes from execution, already had his last meal before the Supreme Court stayed the execution. After a long battle in court, Texas was ordered to test all the evidence. It is not a surprise that Skinner’s DNA was found on a lot of things in the house where the murders took place. He lived there. But for ten years Skinner has been claiming that certain clothes, among which a jacket with a lot of blood on it,didn’t belong to him and therefore must have had someone else’s DNA on it. And guess what?

Texas had all the evidence ready to be tested, all things of which it would be no surprise if Skinners DNA was on it because he lived in the house. But exactly those clothes, the key evidence that Skinner has claimed could prove someone else was involved, were ‘lost’ by the Texas Justice system. Skinner fought for ten years to have exactly those things tested and once a judge finally ordered that everything had to be tested, Texas could provide everything, except the things Skinner had asked for all those years.

Is that a coincidence? Is it bad luck? I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories but this is too ridiculous to believe. They never wanted to test and now they were forced to and they still had all the stuff of which it was likely to have Skinners DNA on it anyway, but the key parts, with blood on them, were all of a sudden lost. But Skinner’s fingerprints were found on the door of his own house, therefore Texas still wants to execute him.

Another case. Robert Gene Will. Sent to Death Row for the murder of a Police Officer. Rob Will and another man were caught trying to break into a car. Rob Will never had an ideal childhood, but his accomplice was the son of a Police Officer. Both were caught while committing the crime. The Police Officers Radio log suggests that Rob Will was handcuffed and In custody, ten seconds later shots were fired, the police officer died.

Even though there is zero forensic evidence, it is likely that either Rob Will or his friend was the shooter. But which one was it? It’s hard to know although if one person is handcuffed, It makes more sense that the other one would be the shooter. Rob Will claims his friend shot the police Officer, then shot a bullet through Will’s handcuffs to set him free (Will had a wound on his hand) after which they left the scene.

Even though it’s obvious that one of the two men is the murderer, there is no way to determine which one. They blame each other. No evidence for anything and although logic suggests it was the other one, there is no proof. And as I write this Rob Will is on Death Row and his accomplice is probably having a coffee at Starbucks. Remember, his accomplice was the son of a police officer and just for once, by coincidence, Texas forgot about their ridiculous law of parties which makes them both equally liable for it. A police officer was murdered by either Rob Will or by the son of another Police Officer. The son of the police officer is a free man, Rob Will is on Death Row. Justice?

There are many more case like this. Check out Darlie Routier. A woman on Death Row, convicted for murdering her own kids. The Prosecution showed the jury a video in which she was singing and dancing two weeks after the murder while she was celebrating the birthday one of the kids would have had that day. That was the key evidence in the case. She seemed to be happy. The prosecution also had other video’s on which she was repeatedly seen crying on the graveyard, but the prosecution chose not to show those video’s. Jurors would later say they had been totally misled by the Prosecution.

I can go on forever. There are too many examples, it’s impossible to mention them all.

The thing that worries me is that in most Death Penalty cases in America, there is not so much doubt if they have the right one. We can discuss if the Death Penalty is good or not, that’s a different issue. But nowhere are there so many cases with serious doubts, where the behavior of Prosecutors is so ignorant, where they don’t even try to get it right, as there are in Texas. They just don’t care.

The law of parties is a law for everyone, except for the son of a police officer. Texas refuses to do DNA testing and once forced to, they lost the most important things that had to be tested. Prosecutors have an enormous amount of videos showing very emotional footage of a mother crying over the loss of her children. They didn’t show it. They showed the three minutes they had when she wasn’t crying. Arson experts disprove arson, but it’s an election year so no one dares to stop the execution. Who cares?

A Justice System should try to get it right. Prosecutors who are not sure if a suspect is guilty should either look for more evidence or drop the case. Not try to manipulate a case and get someone convicted who may very well be innocent. A Justice System is there to do Justice. Not to find everybody guilty.

In Texas it seems to be more important to find someone guilty than to find the right one guilty. In Texas Prosecutors say, a couple days after an execution, that the inmate who was executed might have been guilty.

And as long as the entire culture of the Texas Justice System doesn’t change, the Supreme Court should automatically stay all executions that Texas wants to carry out. Because there is proof beyond reasonable doubt, that at this moment, the Texas Justice System can’t be trusted with anything.