THE CASE OF HANK SKINNER
JUSTICE MANIPULATED IS JUSTICE DENIED
New Year's Eve, 1993
On New Years Eve, 1993, Hank and Twila were preparing for their New Year's celebrations at their home in Pampa, Texas. Hank had returned from working at his motor business at about 3:30pm and asked Ms. Busby's twenty-two year old son, Elwin [Scooter] Caler to go and buy some vodka.
Hank and Twila began their celebrations early that year. Hank consciously took a cocktail of Xanax pills and alcohol. Additionally, he was also subjected to a near lethal dose of codeine and passed out some time before 10:15pm, when Howard Mitchell, a close friend of both Hank and Twila, arrived to drive them both to attend his New Year's party. Howard attempted to rouse Hank from his stupor. From Mitchell's affidavit of August 1994 - "When I got there, Mr. Skinner was laying on the couch asleep, and there was a large bottle of vodka on the coffee table. I grabbed Mr. Skinner's arm about five times. I got no reaction from Mr. Skinner - he was out cold."
Mitchell and Twila then left to attend the party. Testimony was given at the original trial explaining why Twila left that party early. From the "Statement of Testimony At Trial" [filed as part of the Direct Appeal brief and listing the testimonial evidence originally presented at court]:
"[Testimony was given that] Mitchell and Twila left the appellant alone in the house and drove to Mitchell's trailer where a party was in progress. Twila's uncle, Robert Donnell, got very drunk at the party. Donnell was a big man with a hot temper who carried a knife in the trunk of his car. He had used force to collect a drug debt from a woman and sexually molested a young girl when she was asleep. Donnell followed Twila around at the party as if he was stalking her and made rude sexual advances. Twila became agitated and asked Mitchell to take her home."
Twila arrived home between 11:00 and 11:15. Shortly afterwards she was bludgeoned to death. Her younger son was stabbed and murdered in his bed. The attacker also stabbed Scooter, but he was able to flee to a neighbor's yard where he collapsed on the porch. Scooter never regained consciousness and died shortly afterwards. He was found by the neighbor who called the police at 11:59pm.
After having drunk all evening, poisoned by a near lethal dose of codeine, which Hank is severely allergic to, (it is believed that he was either accidentally or intentionally poisoned by the addition of the pills to his drinks), Hank was comatose during the commission of the murders, as the testimony/evidence clearly shows. Sometime after the attacks, it is believed that Scooter revived Hank and led him out of the house in an effort to find help.
Apparently Scooter left Hank in the alley and continued to the neighbor's porch, as stated above. Hank eventually stumbled down the alley, finding his way to another neighbor's home, where he sought help and where he was arrested some three hours later. It is believed that Hank was not harmed during the attacks on Twila, Scooter and Randy simply because, in his comatose condition, he posed no threat to the killer(s). Or, that possibly Scooter eventually succeeded in discharging the attacker(s) from the home before Hank could be harmed.
In any event, it is apparent from the evidence that whoever committed the crime was primarily concerned with Twila, Scooter and Randy, possibly because of anger harbored against them which did not include Hank. Considering the above information and trial testimony concerning Twila's uncle, Robert Donnell, one can easily see how this could happen.
The Crime Scene
When the police arrived at the house to which Scooter had stumbled, they soon ascertained where he lived and rushed over. When they arrived, they failed to treat the scene of the crime with the preservative care that is conventionally considered an essential requirement in any investigation. In Hank's words, "they trampled the crime scene badly." At pre-trial hearings it was revealed that, at one point, there had been as many as eighteen officers and one dog in the house at the same time.
The police found a bloody pick-axe handle near the couch and a blood-covered knife on the porch. There were numerous hand-prints around the house. Two (subsequently identified as Hank's) were found, 24 inches (two feet) and 30 inches from the floor respectively, on the door to the bathroom/washer-dryer room. Leading out of the house, two hand-prints were found on and near the door leading from the kitchen to the utility room at the rear of the house; one was subsequently identified as belonging to Hank, the other was never identified, but was assumed to be his for the purposes of the trial. On the door leading outside, another print was found and identified as Hank's.
Of course, at the initial investigation none of this evidence had been analyzed or identified. Yet, in the first few minutes after the bodies had been discovered, the police decided Hank was the murderer. From the affidavit - submitted by J. Wallace, Peace Officer - upon which the evidentiary warrant was granted [emphases - added] - "Sheriff Stubblefield knew that Henry Watkins "Hank" Skinner lived with Twila Busby at 801 East Campbell and Sheriff Stubblefield had a feeling that Skinner was involved."
Local police authorities were known to be severely biased against Hank because of his previous work in civil rights, particularly aspects of that work in which Hank defended the rights of accused citizens, addressed authorities' violations of citizens' rights, as well as other illegal activities employed by those authorities.
Indeed, they were so intent in their determination to prove Hank to be the murderer that they sent a dog under the foundations of the house to search for him, should he be there; all this without a shred of evidence, at that time, linking him to the crime scene other than that they knew he lived there.
The search of the crime scene was carried out, without a warrant, for ten days - a fundamental abuse of constitutional rights. The judge, however, ruled the evidence admissible. Glenn Unnasch, the Austin crime lab Department of Public Safety's fingerprint expert, was called to the crime scene on January 5th, 1994. Mr. Unnasch was allegedly "impeded" in his investigation by Pampa police, who "refused to let him go over the entire crime scene, but instead directed him to the bloody prints they'd found, and told him to recover only those. He was told to look only for my prints." [quote Hank Skinner].
From the Statement of Testimony filed by Steven C. Losch, the attorney representing Hank for his Direct Appeal, "Unnasch believed that a search of the crime scene for latent prints that were not made in blood could have produced important evidence, but he did not collect it because the Pampa police did not ask him to do so. Unnasch was also not asked to compare appellant's handprint to the apparent latent bloody handprint that Burroughs saw on Twila Busby's left forearm."
The Statement of Testimony has much more still to say about the analysis of the forensic evidence found at the murder scene. There are many stated instances of the investigation team declining to perform tests on readily available blood evidence that could have explained the source of individual blood concentrations and the manner of accumulation [eg spattered blood, consistent with proximity to an attack - soaked blood, consistent with accumulation some time after attack, etc.] Furthermore, in addition to this, there are further interesting points relating to the quality of forensic analysis. The following are quoted directly from the Statement of Testimony [emphases added]
"....The Pampa police asked Department of Public Safety criminalist Gary Stallings to determine whether the brown stain on the towel in the black plastic trash bag was human blood. Stallings did not perform that test or test the knife in the bag for blood........"
"....Stallings did not comply with [Detective Terry] Young's's request to determine whether the blood on the blade of the knife that was found on the front porch was appellant's blood or the blood of one of the victims. Young believed the answer to that question was important. Stallings claimed that it was insignificant because there was no evidence that any of the victims were stabbed with the knife that was found on the front porch. The prosecutor disagreed with Stallings: he told the jury in his summation that appellant stabbed Caler [Scooter] with that knife....."
"....Dr. Peacock preserved .... [potential evidence of rape] in a rape kit. That evidence could have shown that Twila had sexual intercourse with someone other than appellant on or about the night of the murder. Young believed it was important to test it, but Stallings decided not to have the tests done because he did not believe that Twila was raped. Stallings did not know that Twila's pants were unzipped and her blouse was raised above her stomach when her body was found..."
"....Dr. Peacock and Stallings agreed that human hairs in the palms of Twila Busby's hands....could have come from the head of her assailant....No tests were done on the hairs because Stallings believed that they probably came from Twila's head or the carpet...."
"....Stallings acknowledged that...his [Twila's assailant's] blood could have been caught under her fingernails. Clippings of Twila Busby's bloody fingernails were preserved and submitted to Stallings for testing.
Stallings did not request a DNA test to determine the source of the blood because he believed that it was probably her own blood...."
Little regard was paid, then, to potentially vindicating evidence. It seems clear that the investigation team already thought they knew who their man was - or perhaps, as we shall see, who they wanted their man to be..
In summing up this section, we shall leave the last words to Hank himself - words which clearly illustrate his exasperation and frustration at the manner in which the "case" against him was protected by the exclusion of evidence which may have proven his innocence.
"Gary Stallings, who was the criminalist in charge of the testing done in this case, testified that there was no need to test any of the blood on the purported murder weapons, the handprints or the other surfaces where it was found because it 'wasn't relevant to the investigation'....Stallings compared it [the knife found on the porch] to 'a cup of blood which the wind had blown up into the yard,' that there was no proof it had anything to do with the murders and so there was no reason to test the blood on it. He said this would've presented an 'unnecessary complication' in the evidence. If what I believe is correct, it surely would've been a 'complication.' It would've proven my innocence."
Why did the state's investigators decide on Hank's guilt so early on, and with such little evidence? The answer may lie in Hank's activities prior to the murders. He was a general embarrassment to the law enforcement authorities in Texas...." , and those in Gray county in particular. Hank believes he is the victim of a frame-up operation, and argues the case convincingly.
In his own words: "I've always been an outspoken advocate for the constitution, constitutional rights and prisoner's rights. Over the years, I've been active through participation in inmate lawsuits on jail/prison conditions, have represented inmates at parole revocation....hearings, have advised inmates when their court appointed shysters have lied to them and discouraged those who claimed innocence from accepting plea bargains."
"I've had many interviews in the Pampa newspaper on the way the prior sheriff, Jimmy Free, treated inmates in the jail and violated their rights. In short, I was an irritant to the government of Gray County and particularly to the District Attorney and sheriff's offices."
In another statement on the same subject:
"When I was arrested, the District Attorney had me under indictment for two felony crimes. He had previously had me arrested for a bogus burglary, but I had demanded the first examining trial in Gray County in seventeen years, before he could get me indicted and proved all his allegations false".
"At trial, the state's witness in the other alleged crime took the stand and admitted he was lying because he was mad at me. He was a fifteen year old juvenile who's been in more trouble with the law than I have. I have two prior convictions, both for car theft".
"I have one probation for aggravated assault on a police officer; which I successfully completed in three years. The evidence shows that I didn't actually assault him. He arrested me for public intoxication, took me to the City Jail and began beating me.
When he fell on top of me, I had stuck my knee up, which hit him in the groin".
"Anyway, the District Attorney was amassing these charges..... the theory being, that if he piled enough charges up on me, whether they had any merit or not, eventually he'd get me into a plea bargain on some charge. He was quoted as saying that he didn't 'give a damn if I was guilty or not,' he was going to 'send me to the pen [prison] for a long, long, time.' This crime [the murder] was the perfect opportunity for him to make good on that threat and so he did."
Anatomy of a Murderer?
But could Hank Skinner have been the murderer?
Three hours after their initial search of the crime scene, the police traced Hank to his neighbor's house and immediately arrested him. Hank states that he was taken to the police station, stripped and photographed. He was so ill from the alcohol and codeine coursing through his veins that he was quite unable to stand while his photograph was taken; indeed the police needed to hold him upright so the shots could be framed.
This offers some insight into the physical condition of Hank Skinner the night he was accused of a triple murder; but there is a large body of critical evidence which raises serious doubts as to whether he could be physically, let alone mentally, capable of committing the murders for which he now stands to lose his life.
Hank at the time of his arrest
After being photographed, Hank was taken to a hospital where he gave blood samples. The tests run on these samples provided startling results. They indicated a blood alcohol level, at the time of the murders, of 0.21%. The samples were taken six and a half hours after the alleged time of the murders and it was proven at trial that Hank could not have drunk at his neighbor's house - she was a recovering alcoholic who allowed no alcohol on her premises under any circumstances. More significant than this, the blood tests later proved that the codeine level in Hank's blood at the time of the murders was 0.44gms per 100ml. All this points to much more than his merely being a little worse for wear from drugs and alcohol. Hank is severely allergic to codeine, a condition that has been represented in his medical reports since the age of 19 [he is now 35, 31 at the time of the murders.] This allergy induces lethargy, delirium and hallucination - it also makes Hank "deathly ill."
William T. Lowry PhD, a forensic toxicologist, testified at trial that the synergistic [or combined accumulative] effect of that blood level of codeine and alcohol would have rendered Hank physically incapable of performing the murders.
Dr. Lowry stated that the alcohol alone "would cause mental confusion, disorientation, dizziness, disturbances of sensations....impaired balance, staggering....". That level of codeine, on its own, would place a person in "a sedation state, codeine is a narcotic, it's a sedative, makes one sleepy and all central nervous systems would have slowed down, everything would have been slow. So, normally a person would be in a pretty deep sleep."
Dr. Lowry was able to confirm Howard Mitchell's earlier testimony that, at 9:30 that evening [when he arrived to pick up Twila,] Hank would indeed have been "comatose" or "unconscious and not being able to be aroused by any external stimuli". At midnight, the doctor stated Hank would have been in a "stuporous state".
At midnight, the doctor stated Hank would have been in a "stuporous state". In this state "The majority of people would be asleep, but the stupor state may be awake or asleep."
The doctor stated that pharmacologically and neurologically it was "Highly improbable" that Hank could have inflicted the constituent injuries of the three murders. They "would have required considerable thought, considerable amount of energy and considerable co-ordination..... [the] individual in a stuporous state would be exerting primarily most of the energy trying to stand, or walk, much less trying to co-ordinate any instruments of - giving a lethal blow with that instrument."
Additionally, in his testimony, Dr. Lowry states that the positioning of the hand-prints found around the crime scene, and attributed to Hank, would be consistent with someone stumbling around and suffering the effects of a stuporous state of intoxication. "...in a stuporous state, a person would require holding onto something to maintain an upright position; not all the time a person is successful and they will be in a prone position and they would require a little more...assistance grabbing onto things to get back into the upright position."
Furthermore, he stated that it would be highly common for an individual in a stuporous state to accumulate the blood of other individuals lying in his path as he made his way. "in an environment as you described [the crime scene] it would require some maneuvering not to get the blood combined from one person to another, if a person was moving about. A person in a stuporous state is moving at...far more exaggerated, and variable directions." Both these statements directly support Hank's assertions that he accumulated the blood and left the handprints as he stumbled to escape the house.
However, it does not end there. In addition to the fact that Hank was pharmacologically incapacitated, there is further irrefutable evidence suggesting that Hank simply could not have been the attacker. [At this point the author must issue a warning that what follows makes for gruesome reading, and may cause distress - however, the implications are extremely important, so we urge you to read on.] Dr. Elizabeth Peacock, the state's Medical Examiner testified that the blows to Twila's head were of such force that they drove fragments of bone into the center of her brain. The bone in Twila's skull was abnormally thick. "In some persons this condition makes the bone spongy and weaker; in others the bone grows more dense and impenetrable, much stronger than normal, as was the case with Twila. Dr Peacock testified that it would have taken a man of immense strength and dexterity to wield the club with enough force to effect the damage done.
Additionally, the Medical Examiner found evidence that she had been strangled prior to death with hands powerful enough to leave permanent indentations in her flesh and to inflict bone fracture. Clearly, the murderer of Twila Busby was a man of immense manual strength. Hank Skinner, in contrast, is severely handicapped in his right hand. He had suffered this injury through an accident involving a shop saw. The accident stripped the flesh from a large area of the palm of his hand and, as a result, he has nerve damage and fifty percent tissue loss in that area. Hank is a slight man, 5' 9"; 140#. With his injuries and handicapped hand he was not physically capable of committing the crime.
All this must surely cast considerable doubt over the prosecution's assertions that Hank Skinner was the murderer. In his own words - "The Medical Examiner demonstrated in open court the method used in strangling Twila. It was with both hands, palms down, thumbs interlocked, one over the other, fingers on the left and right sides of the neck. The classic 'throttling position.' There's no way I could've done it."
In summarizing, Hank puts it perfectly: "The older boy, Scooter, was 22 years old, 6'6" tall, weighing 265 pounds and in very good health. I'm a slight man, 5'9" tall, weighing 140 pounds, at the time of the murders I had a blood alcohol content of .24 [.21] grams per liter, which is double drunk. Add to that .44 grams per 100ml of codeine and the synergistic effect of it combined with the alcohol. Add to that my allergy to codeine..... Consider the force required to inflict these blows. The stab wound patterns on the boys were just a few inches apart, grouped tightly together. Think of the aim, control and dexterity required to effect such wounds on a person; two of whom were moving targets, I presume. Take all of this into consideration and then tell me I'm the one who killed those three people. Not only is it far fetched, it's insane and impossible."
Due Process of Law
One would imagine that, with such a vast body of evidence indicative of innocence, Hank's defense attorney would have had no difficulty in impressing on the court a significant level of reasonable doubt. Sadly, this was not the case.
Hank's principal defense attorney was ex prosecuting counsel, Harold Comer. This was not the first time Hank had come into contact with Comer - in the past, as part of his legal work on behalf of others, Hank had challenged Comer's irregular prosecution tactics. In Hank's words "....I had beaten the local prosecutor [Comer] so many times, having learned his game. He would arrest one person who was a known criminal, then get another one he had arrested previously to 'turn state's evidence' against the first one to get them convicted. He relentlessly played these poor idiots against each other....his philosophy was that he didn't care whether they had actually committed the crimes with which he charged them; rather, he felt that since they were all criminals anyway, they all belonged behind bars for as long as he could get them there." Clearly, there was no love lost between the accused and his assigned defense attorney, and this may go some way to explaining Comer's extraordinary neglect in defending Hank; but it is by no means the only possible factor.
Harold Comer ended his term as a state prosecutor amidst a well-documented scandal involving the alleged embezzlement of state funds. On February 25th, 1992 he was found guilty of depositing $10,000 of drugs money seized by the State into his own private bank account. He succeeded in escaping a felony charge through a plea-bargain which entailed his repaying the $10,000 before his case came to court. He was given a one year probationary sentence and received a $1,000 fine. Since he was not prosecuted on a felony charge, he was not barred from practicing law and consequently owed his livelihood to the clemency of the State.
In less than two years, Comer found himself assigned to a murder case, and representing an old adversary - ostensibly seeking to defeat the objectives of the State to which he owed so much. It does not take a great deal of intuition to anticipate the quality of defense representation provided to Henry Watkins Skinner.
This level of quality was clear from the outset. Hank states that "..at my first meeting....I attempted to tell Comer that I knew I wasn't the person who committed the crime. His response was that he knew I'd done it, but would 'do his best for me anyway."
Initially, Hank started out with a productive investigator, Mr. E. John Rosa, who discovered much that was helpful to his defense, but Comer soon fired him and hired Kirven Roper "a drunkard and used car dealer....As an investigator, he couldn't find water in the midst of a flood." [quote - Hank Skinner.] Further investigation reveals that Comer had previously fired Rosper from his job as DA investigator for gross negligence, incompetence and theft.
Comer failed to highlight at trial the fact that none of the alleged murder weapons were ever linked to Skinner, nor did he at any point raise the issue that one of those weapons [a knife] was found in a bag on which were bloody fingerprints proven to be other than Hank's.
There was also valuable witness evidence available. Mr. Ronnie Campbell gave a statement that proved that there was another man in the house at the time of the murders. Ronnie was in the county jail at the time and had phoned to speak to Hank. Scooter [Twila Busby's eldest son] answered, and Ronnie heard a man's voice in the background. It was not Hank's.
After having described hearing the voices of Twila and an unidentified man in the background, Ronnie stated that he did not hear Hank's voice in the background. On speaking to the frightened Scooter, he asked to speak to Twila but was told that she was speaking to "some guy." Ronnie claimed that he heard Ms. Busby "screaming hysterically in the background."
That Ronnie Campbell was a first hand witness to the attacks of Twila Busby and her sons seems clear. His statement at the time of the murders matched known evidence in the case and contained information that he could not have known unless he had made the call, and there was independent supporting testimony available in the form of Ronnie's jailer who was willing to testify that Campbell had, indeed, reported the conversation to her shortly after it had taken place. The prison keeps a log of all phone calls, and Comer was supposed to subpoena the record for that night, but all he did was ask the sheriff to bring it with him when he came to testify. By that time, the log had mysteriously "disappeared." Neither Ronnie Campbell nor his jailer were ever called to testify at trial.
All this was further compounded after the prosecution secured a misleading and false testimony from one of their key witnesses, Andrea Joyce Reed. Ms. Reed was the neighbor to whose house Hank stumbled after the attacks had taken place. She has recently signed a sworn affidavit in the presence of Susie Ferguson, a Notary Public for the State of Texas, which raises disturbing questions about the reliability of prosecutorial evidence presented before the jury who recommended death for Henry Watkins Skinner. The following extracts are quoted directly from this affidavit [text in parentheses added as summary paraphrasing]:
"On the night of the crime....when Mr. Skinner came to my home he did not force his way in....Mr. Skinner was unable to stand on his own and I had to practically carry him wherever he went within the house”........
".....After Mr. Skinner was arrested and I was taken to the police station... it became apparent to me that the officers thought I had some involvement in the crime itself. Several comments were made to me that I could be arrested and charged with being an accessory to capital murder after the fact, and for harboring a fugitive. Officers were constantly questioning me as I was giving my statement, which resulted in ameliorations of the facts of what actually occurred that night. Things were suggested to me and I complied, out of fear of arrest and the police taking my children away, which was mentioned several times”.....
"....In my statement to the police I changed the facts by trying to distance myself from Mr. Skinner.....I had no involvement in the crime nor did I try to hide Mr. Skinner from the police's discovery, but I included statements to the effect that I had asked him to leave, didn't want him in the house, didn't let him in, and didn't know how he got in. The facts of the matter are simply that I found him injured and unable to stand without support on my front porch. I took him into the house to try to help him....the police came.... [and] asked if he was there. I said he was”.......
"While talking to Mr. Skinner.....[while in her house].... he was nearly unconscious and incoherent most of that time. At trial I testified that he wasn't in such a bad condition, but the truth is that he was in very bad shape”......
"...At trial I stated that, in my opinion, he was capable of committing the crime with which he was charged. The truth is that, in my opinion and as a matter of fact, he was incapable of committing any physical act against any person. He could not even use the bathroom facilities on his own... I had to hold him up and help him”.
".....[When I] Decided to call Twila to come and take him home... he told me I couldn't call her because he thought she was dead ... He never told me he thought he had killed her. This is one of the ameliorations that resulted from pressures placed upon me by police and District Attorney's office personnel. When I asked Mr. Skinner if he had done anything to Twila, he said he thought he had kicked her. Later, he said he thought he'd tripped over her”.
"When I arrived in Fort Worth prior to my testimony at trial, [I was] handed ... a script ... saying 'Here's your part. Stick to only what it says and everything will be O.K.' The script contained the matters they wanted me to testify to and which I did testify to, but which were, for the most part, untrue, as I have described above..."
Ms. Reed made the above sworn statement after suffering tormented remorse and in an attempt to reverse the harm done by her original false testimony.
Little wonder then, in view of the aggressive, indiscriminate prosecution, the poor quality of investigation and defense representation, that the jury deliberated only two and a half hours before delivering a guilty verdict; but the jury's verdict may have been colored by other factors.
The jury, in any court case, is expected to reach its decision based upon a critical analysis of the evidence brought up at trial, and only that evidence. This principle appears to have been subverted in the case of Henry Watkins Skinner. Hank states that he has cause to believe that the jury may have fallen prey to a false rumor. This rumor suggested that critical evidence indicative of guilt, including a taped confession, had been suppressed at trial ["All lies, but effective ones!" - HS]
The possible tainting of the jury's decision is best explained by Hank himself:
"There were a few items suppressed by the judge, true enough. But it was a cursory thing to assuage the defense motion for illegal search suppression of evidence. Not one item suppressed had any evidentiary value for the prosecution whatsoever - lemons taken from the kitchen table; a roll of toilet paper taken from the dining room, etc. - junk, that's all. The District Attorney made good use of it though. Mr. Comer wrote him a letter before trial, instructing him to 'have the evidence custodians bring ALL evidence to Fort Worth.' So the District Attorney brought it into the courtroom during the trial, where the jury was allowed to see the boxes, but not their contents. Then Comer jumped up in the jury's presence and told the judge in a harried voice 'This evidence was suppressed! It's not even supposed to be here! I want a mistrial!' Well, if the jury had been told what I stated above [the alleged suppression of damning evidence] .....just think what effect that had on them”.
"There's evidence that it did exactly that. When they went to deliberate, the first thing they did was send a note out and tell the judge they wanted a list of ALL the evidence and a tape recorder.....The judge sent them a note which said all the evidence they were to consider was already in the jury room. In other words, 'sure, there's other evidence, but you can't have it.'"
HANK'S CASE TODAY: THE DNA ISSUE
During the year 2000, David Protess, professor of journalism at the Northwestern University of Illinois, and his students conducted two independent investigations on Hank's case. The questions, evidence and witnesses brought up through those investigations raised elements that were not brought up at his trial or through any prior investigation. The district attorney, John Mann decided at that point and under the pressure of the media, to have the evidence tested. He announced through the local press "I'm going to test it all and see if I can't put a few more nails in that man's (ie. Hank's) coffin". Mann arranged for the test without any Court oversight or agreed-upon protocol despite the repeated requests and protests from Hank's attorney, Doug Robinson. At the end of the year 2000, Mann triumphantly told the press that the lab had reported to him that its DNA tests showed that Hank was the source of hairs found clutched in Twila's right hand and blood found on one of those hairs. Mann declared these results to be "end of story".
However, Mann's reports to the press turned out to be false. After he left office, he could no longer control, or fabricate, public dissemination of information about the DNA. In February 2001, the lab submitted to the new district attorney, Richard Roach, written reports that it had prepared to Mann's requests. Those reports state the following:
- the blood found on the hair in Ms Busby's hand was her own and not that of Mr Skinner.
- the mitochondrial DNA profile of the other hair found in Ms Busby's hand was "inconclusive" but Mr Skinner was "excluded as potential contributor" of either hair.
The lab reports were more consistent with Hank's innocence than his guilt. Despite Mann's claim that he would have ALL the evidence tested, very little has actually been tested so far or if it has, no reports have been published or handed to Hank's attorneys.
On October 9th, 2001, Hank's attorney, filed a motion for forensic testing in order to obtain the following:
Fingerprint comparison, tests of blood or other DNA material on both knives - purported murder weapons.
DNA testing of a stain found on a dishtowel that was discovered in the plastic bag along with the knife.
DNA testing of the rape kit.
DNA testing of the fingernails clippings.
Blood comparison with the other two victim's blood and with the primary suspect Robert Donnell.
DNA testing of hairs and blood found on a jacket lying next to Twila's body.
This motion has been denied. An appeal was taken in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals which was also denied for very arbitrary reasons (Read Hank's Analysis and Comments) on July 9, 2003. In the meantime, Hank's attorneys moved for DNA discovery in Federal court where Hank's Federal Writ is now pending. In July 2004, the Federal magistrate, Clinton Averitte, granted the motion in part, to include all data and bench notes from the private lab that D.A. John Mann paid in 2000 to conduct limited testing on some of the evidence. It was then revealed that the lab misinterpreted the results and simply failed to report other exculpatory results. Worse, the lab (GeneScreen now called Orchid-Cellmark) changed archival software which obscured the underlying electronic data and despite the discovery order granted by the Court, GeneScreen personnel failed to cooperate with Hank's DNA experts. In the year 2000, John Mann ran a 7 months long smear campaign against Hank from July to December with headlines in the Pampa and Amarillo newspapers such as "D.A. to test evidence - expects hairs 'clutched' in victim's hand came from head of Skinner"; "DNA tests results due next month - D.A expects tests will show hair came from Skinner"; "DNA test results point to Skinner"; "D.A. receives lab results from previously untested evidence"; "Reactions mixed to Skinner DNA Tests"; "Release of DNA results upsets lawyer-The Washington attorney now criticizes the local D.A.'s release of DNA test results that indicate Skinner's bloodstained hair (was) found in the murdered woman's hand"; "Report reveals hair in victim's hand belonged to Skinner, D.A. says - In all the sampling there has been no DNA from any third person"; "Mann: DNA tests target Skinner" and more, all in this vein.
One would have to wonder why John Mann would choose a private lab to do the testing at $8000-$12000 cost to county taxpayers when he could have gotten the state's DPS lab to do it for free. The answer lies with GeneScreen's MT DNA analyst William "Bill" Watson. Houston/Harris County Capital Crimes Division Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler had a fondness for Watson and used him in most of her death penalty prosecutions because Watson was well known for giving prosecutors the results they wanted. Just as panhandle pathologist Ralph Erdmann M.E. gave Lubbock D.A. Travis Ware "made to order" autopsy results, maybe Bill Watson gave John Mann "made to order DNA test results"? This could explain why the news stories quoted Mann as saying he "expects" certain results. Indeed, maybe the fix was in, Mann expected GeneScreen to deliver (pseudo) inculpatory test results against Hank? The truth is, none of the tested hairs 'clutched' in the victim's hands belonged to Hank Skinner but instead to an unknown third party! Once the Court forced GeneScreen to turn over to the defense all hardcopy data related to their testing and once that data was examined by a competent, neutral analyst, GeneScreen's "misinterpretations" became glaringly apparent. Based on this evidence, Hank's attorneys have once again renewed their motion for discovery to DNA Test the six items of evidence listed at the beginning of this section.
In the meantime, on July 25th, 2005 the Federal Magistrate ordered an evidentiary hearing on these matters and others contained in Hank's Habeas Writ. The hearing was held on November 16th, 17th and 18th 2005 at the Federal Courthouse in Amarillo and both parties filed their post hearing briefs by January 10th, 2006 - see relevant documents in the "legal documents" section. The magistrate, Judge Averitte, issued his Findings, Conclusions & Recommendation Report on September 29, 2006. Hank's attorneys filed their objections on November 17th, 2006. In February 2007, Judge Robinson issued a one-page order denying Hank's federal writ.
On May 9th, 2007 Hank's attorneys filed an application for a certificate of appealability on the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. On July 2nd, 2007 Judge Robinson denied the application. This decision will be appealed with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and Hank's attorneys haved filed a motion for DNA testing.
Beside the DNA issue, there are two forensic avenues which need to be explored urgently in order to scientifically assess Hank's physical capabilities at the time of the crime. One is toxico-kinesiology to analyze the combination of alcohol and codeine in Hank's blood in relation to how it affected his coordination and movements in order to establish a precise physical profile. The second is bio-mechanic to cross reference his recent (at the time of the crime) palmar injury, that drastically handicapped his right hand, in relation to the forensic findings on Twila's strangulation which required equal strength in both hands as well as immense strength overall.
As it can be easily noted from the legal decisions in this case from February 2007 until July 2007, it is clear that the state of Texas is railroading this case at an increasingly fast pace, time is of the essence and your support is urgently needed to secure the appropriate experts who will most likely be from out-of-state and to cover the cost of the DNA testing to come. The following outline demonstrates, once again, why only a combination of excellent legal work and strong outside support will force the truth in the open and save Hank's life:
Hank's physical condition at the time of the crime and hours afterward demonstrate his allergic reaction to codeine combined with alcohol and left him near comatose, rendered him incapable of the dexterous and agile performance required to precisely club and stab the victims. Twila was hit 14 times in the head with an axe handle. Her sons were each stabbed in the heart area in tightly grouped patterns. The defense toxicologist, the FBI's Dr William Lowry, has no doubt Hank was in no state to even stand unassisted, let alone to club and stab three people in a minute and a half. Notwithstanding the fact that Dr Lowry was not even told about Hank's allergy to codeine which is well documented in his medical records since age 17. This failure by Hank's trial counsel allowed the D.A. to argue at trial that instead Hank was a chronic drug user who had incredible tolerance that allowed him to commit the crimes despite his condition at that time. The truth lies is his allergy rendered Hank virtually inoperable. Dr Lowry has since the trial given an affidavit attesting to this medical fact.
Twila was strangled unconscious before she was murdered by hands so strong hat they left finger indentations in her skin and broke the bones in her neck. At the time of the crime Hank was recovering from a palmar injury to his right hand, which nearly severed his thumb. The wound had become infected and had to be operated on, resulting in a loss of 30 to 35% of muscle mass and a loss of 50% strength in that hand. At the time of the crime Hank could barely hold a hairbrush to groom himself. Hank is right-handed and likewise could not have wielded the knives or club-axe handle.
Despite the availability of genetic materials from the crime scene (nail clippings, rape kit, two knives, bloody kitchen towel and a man's XLG 44-46 jacket found beside Twila's body), none of these items were DNA tested prior to trial. In 2000 Illinois Professor David Protess conducted an extensive investigation into Hank's case and uncovered evidence of Hank's innocence.
Despite the promise made by the State of Texas to David Protess, Bryson Hull an Associated Press journalist and to Maureen Maher of CBS News to have all evidence DNA tested, to this day the motions filed to obtain those tests have been denied or ignored. Furthermore Professor David Protess who promised Hank to pursue the case until he got justice, recently declined to pick up the case where he left it in 2000.
On of the purported murder weapons, one of the two knives found at the crime scene, was in a plastic trash bag containing a handprint, which does not belong to Hank.
Footwear impressions (large boot prints) found in the blood pooled around Twila's head and leading out to the front door and across the porch were not investigated for origin. Hank wears a size 9-9 ½ and owned only tennis shoes and dress shoes. The night of the crime, Hank was only wearing socks. These boot prints are at least size 11-12.
Fresh blood drops take off the sidewalk by the front door of the house have been DNA tested and shown to belong to an unknown male individual.
The front storm glass contained a bloody palm print, which was preserved when the door was removed. The glass was covered with masking paper but while it was stored in the evidence vault at the county sheriff's office, someone cut a square lap in the masking paper and used a razor blade to scrape the print off the glass.
Robert Donnell, Twila's maternal uncle, had a history of violence and was seen stalking Twila at a neighbor's New Year's Eve party on the night of the crime. Donnell had twice raped Twila in recent past and was known to have a propensity for knives. Twila was found dead with her pants unzipped and her blouse was pulled up high on her chest. The medical examiner testified her private parts were reddened and chafed. When Twila left the party, Donnell followed five minutes later and was never called to account for his whereabouts at the time of the crime. After Donnell finally got home and when told of the deaths of his niece and great nephews the next day at 5:00am, he showed no reaction but took his truck into the front yard, pulled out the seats and interior, scrubbed it all out with a brush and hose, replaced the carpets, then repainted the exterior. Later a neighborhood child identified Donnell's truck as having been at the crime scene at the time of the crime but police never questioned Donnell. He was later killed in a drunken auto accident.
Hank deserves justice and justice demands the truth.
On November 10, 2007 Al Jazeera International aired a two-part program entitled "American Justice - Fatal Flaws", part 2 below deals with wrongful convictions through Hank's case and Curtis McCarty's who was exonerated from Oklahoma death row after 22 years.
CLICK TO VIEW THE VIDEO
To this day, there have been 317 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States, 18 of those were death row cases. Texas leads the country not only in terms of executions (515), but also in terms of DNA exonerations (48) and this is no coincidence.
There have two developments in Hank's appeals in the past few months. The 5th circuit of appeals granted a certificate of appealability on two claims on May 14, 2008. Subsquently, Hank's attorneys filed their merit brief on July 24, 2008 and the state is exepcted to file its brief by October 24, 2008. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin granted oral arguments regarding the second motion for DNA testing which had been denied by the district court on December 6, 2007. The oral arguments took place on October 1st, 2008 and on September 23rd, 2009 the CCA denied the appeal on the denial of the second motion for DNA testing. On November 23rd, the defense team filed their petition for writ of certiorari with the US Supreme Court and on November 27th, the attorneys filed a complaint in federal court against the current Gray County DA, Lynn Switzer, for refusing to release the evidence for private DNA testing.
On January 15 2010, the Magistrate issued its Report and Recommendation and granted defendant's motion to dismiss. On January 20 2010, Judge Mary Lou Robinson adopted the report and filed a one-page judgment. The complaint against the Gray County DA, Lynn Switzer, has been dismissed. This decision was going to be appealed to the 5thcc, but on January 28, 2010 the 5th Circuit Court Appeals filed an order dismissing the appeal. This matter is now being appealed to the US Supreme Court.
In the meantime, Hank sent a 5-page letter to the Gray County D.A., Lynn Switzer with exhibits to document his situation with regards to the DNA testing.
On February 19th, 2010, Hank's attorneys filed a motion to expedite appeal. On March 1st, 2010, the US Supreme Court denied Hank's petition for writ of certiorari #09-7784, another petition for writ of cetiorari is still pending with the US Supreme Court. Also on March 1st, Hank's attorneys filed an application for post conviction writ of habeas corpus as well as an applicant's motion for leave to conduct investigation and to post-amend his application for post conviction writ of habeas corpus.
There have been two developments for calls Hank recent months. The Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted a certificate of Appeal on 14 May 2008. His lawyers filed a motion July 24, 2008. On July 14, 2009, that court dismissed the appeal. The state appellate court in Austin granted a hearing to allow the defense to present its case for DNA testing, the hearing took place on October 1, 2008. September 23, 2009, this appeal was also rejected .
On 23 November 2009, the defense filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States and November 27, she also filed a complaint in federal court against the Advocate General of Gray County, Lynn Switzer, who refuses to transmit exhibits to the defense so that DNA tests can be performed last.
January 15, 2010 the judge in charge of the complaint submitted its findings and recommended that the complaint be canceled. Federal Judge Mary Lou Robinson confirmed this report, January 20, 2010, she issued a one-page ruling confirming the cancellation of the complaint against the Gray County District Attorney, Lynn Switzer. This was appealed to the Federal Court of Appeals 5th Circuit, but on Jan. 28, the same court rejected the appeal, and the case went on appeal before the Supreme Court of the United USA. Hank, meanwhile, sent a letter to the General Counsel of Gray County, Lynn Switzer, to explain in detail the circumstances of his case for DNA testing and asking him to grant a stay of 120 days and to order that DNA tests be performed.
February 19, 2010, Hank's attorneys filed a motion to set aside the new execution date because Hank had other pending appeals. On March 1st, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear his appeal # 09-7784, but another application with the Supreme Court of the United States was still pending (# 09-9000). That same day, his lawyers filed a new appeal in state court.
In response to the new appeal, on March 4, the court issued an order which states that the request for a new petition for habeas corpus must be filed directly with the Court of Appeals of Texas to determine if, procedurally, it is a "new appeal" or "successive" petition. On March 9, Hank's attorneys filed a new petition to the Court of criminal appeals asking that the new appeal to be processed by the trial court. On March 11, the lawyers sent a letter to Governor Rick Perry asking him to grant a stay of execution for 30 days and to order DNA testing.
At the 11th hour, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered an unlimited stay. On 24 May, two months to the day after the stay, the Court agreed to hear the case. Oral arguments were scheduled for Oct. 13 in Washington and the decision of the Court was awaited in the spring of 2011. It is important to understand that if the Supreme Court ruled in Hank’s favor, this decision would not give him access to DNA testing but would just give him the right to pursue his civil complaint against the District Attorney of Gray County, Lynn Switzer, in order to obtain DNA testing. Hank's attorneys filed their written arguments to the Supreme Court July 22, 2010.
On March 7, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States voted in favor of Hank 6 votes against 3. Decision is here. This decision allowed Hank to pursue his civil complaint to seek DNA testing.
On June 2, 2011, the accused in the civil complaint, Lynn Switzer, filed an application to quash the complaint and the case on the merits of the application for DNA testing. On July 14, the defense attorneys filed their response and Lynn Switzer filed hers.
Meanwhile, the judge signed a new execution warrant for November 9, 2011.
September 2, 2011, Hank's attorneys filed in court Gray County Texas, a request to obtain the DNA analysis of the evidence that had never been tested. The application is filed under a new law, SB 122, which became applicable on 1 September. The purpose of SB122 is to ensure that procedural barriers do not prevent prisoners to test evidence that has never been and could be analyzed. Hank's attorneys also asked the court to cancel the execution date set for November 9th, because it does not allow the time necessary for these analyzes are carried out.
On 6 October, a federal judge issued a judgment ordering a hearing on the civil complaint in the light of the Supreme Court ruling in March to 24 October 2011. Hank's attorneys filed their written arguments and the opposing party on October 17, 2011.
October 27, elected officials in Texas sent an open letter to Governor Rick Perry asking him to lift the execution warrant so that DNA tests could be performed.
November 2, 2011 Judge Emmert J. dismissed the third motion for DNA testing. This decision was appealed to the Court of Appeals in Austin.
November 7, 2011, the Court of Appeal issued a ruling granting a stay to allow a hearing on the issue of the third motion for DNA testing.
On November 21, 2011, judge Emmert has signed a second order dismissing the third motion for DNA testing.
On January 30, 2012, Hank's attorneys filed their appeal, and the state filed its on March 5, 2012.
On April 1, 2012, the Court of Appeals ordered a hearing for May 2, 2012.
On June 1, 2012, the Attorney General’s Office filed an advisory indicating that the state was no longer opposed to the DNA testing. Hank's attorneys then published a press release.
June 12, 2012, the State of Texas and attorneys for Hank Skinner filed a joint motion informing the Court of criminal appeals of their agreement to conduct DNA analysis on forty pieces of evidence. That court validated the request and returned the case to Judge Emmert, for signature to start the procedure.
On 22 June 2012, a bilateral agreement was signed by both parties.
Following the advisory filed in court by the Attorney General’s office and media articles, Hank's lawyer issued another press release:
"We are concerned that the Attorney General’s office has seen fit to publish partial results of DNA testing and to present its opinion to the court while DNA tests are still ongoing. Partial results that were produced by the first set of DNA tests show that at least one person other than Hank Skinner and the victims could have been present in the house the night of the murders took place, and perhaps have had contact with one of the weapons used in the murders.
We are not able to draw firm conclusions about whether the DNA testing has solved the lingering questions about the guilt of Hank Skinner or innocence until the whole DNA testing is completed, and the underlying data for DNA analysis has been made available to our experts for detailed examination.
More specifically, DNA testing of a sample of carpet in the room occupied by the victims, Elwin Caler and Randy Busby, reveals a mixed DNA profile of Mr. Caler and that an unknown person who is not Mr. Skinner, Randy Busby, or Twila Busby.
In addition, DNA tests of a spot on a knife that may have been used in the murders reveals a mixture of three DNA contributors. Two of the contributors seem Mr. Caler and Mr. Skinner, but the third largest contributor is someone other than Mr. Caler, M. Skinner, Randy Busby or Twila Busby.
The police laboratory submitted the unknown DNA profile from the sample carpet to the CODIS DNA database, but this search produced no results.
We requested additional DNA testing that could improve the quality of the unknown DNA profile from the sample carpet to allow the authorities to submit to CODIS, the national database of DNA data to match against. We also requested additional DNA testing stains on the knife, to further develop the DNA profile of the third contributor.
All parties must do everything in their power to ensure that Texas is not going to commit an irreversible mistake. "
- Rob Owen, attorney for Hank Skinner | Professor of Law at the University of Texas November 14, 2012
On April 1, 2013, the Ministry of Justice and the defense signed an agreement on mitochondrial DNA testing. These will be performed by a private laboratory and will be paid by Hank.
At the end of August 2013, the entire DNA analysis was done. On August 29, the defense filed an advisory with the 31st District Court of Gray County with the mitochondrial analysis as well as the report on the evidence. A hearing was subsequently scheduled for February 2014.
On February 3rd and 4th, 2014, the hearing took place in Pampa. The defense and the state submitted their proposed findings to the judge on June 6, 2014.
On July 14, 2014 Judge Emmert filed an order adopting the state's proposed findings of facts. The defense will appeal this ruling in the next few weeks.
A contribution to support background Hank, however modest sum, is a contribution to justice and helps fight against a judicial system ruled by corruption.
THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
Last update - July 21, 2014