Discussing my correspondence with Death Row inmate Hank Skinner and reading his letter.
Music: “Fish in the Jailhouse” by Tom Waits
Henry Watkins "Hank" Skinner (born April 4, 1962) is a death row inmate in Texas. In 1995, he was convicted of bludgeoning to death his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and stabbing to death her two adult sons, Randy Busby and Elwin Caler. On March 24, 2010, twenty minutes before his scheduled execution (second execution date), the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution to consider the question of whether Skinner could request testing of DNA his attorney chose not to have tested at his original trial in 1994. A third execution date for November 9, 2011, was also ultimately stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on November 7, 2011.
The Supreme Court issued on March 6, 2011, an opinion holding that Skinner may sue under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (See Civil Rights Act of 1871) claiming that Texas' rules for seeking post-conviction DNA testing upon which the judges rely are too narrow or restrictive. The ruling did not specifically grant Skinner the DNA testing he had been seeking, but on June 1, 2012, the Texas attorney general's office finally agreed to the analysis of the evidence required by the defense.
On November 14, 2012, the Texas Attorney General's office released an advisory to the Gray County state district court that convicted Skinner advising the court that the DNA testing further implicated Skinner in the Busby family murders. Among the findings: Skinner's blood was found in numerous places in the back bedroom where Busby's two sons were murdered. Skinner's DNA was also found on the handle of a bloody knife, but along with DNA from one of the sons and an "unknown contributor". Skinner's attorney, Rob Owen, has requested additional DNA testing to identify DNA from an "unknown contributor" on the knife and in the back bedroom. Additionally, the state lost a bloody jacket found under Twila Busby’s arm which Skinner claims belonged to her uncle, Robert Donnell, a convicted felon and accused molester of Twila – Skinner claims Donnell is the real killer.
On August 29, 2013, a private Virginia laboratory published the results of tests conducted on four hairs found in the hand of the slain woman, Twila Busby – and three of them show a family link with the three victims, but do not belong to them, with only one of them belonging to Skinner. These results could incriminate Robert Donnell, a deceased (1997) maternal uncle, who Twila Busby had told friends had molested her on multiple occasions and who had threatened her shortly before the murders. As of September 2013, these findings had not yet been assessed by judicial authorities.
On February 3 and 4, 2014 an evidentiary hearing took place in Pampa, Texas. "Prosecutors argued that the tests only confirmed Skinner's guilt, while lawyers for the 51-year-old defendant said the results raised enough questions about the identity of the perpetrator that a jury would not have condemned him to death." In July 2014, Judge Steven Emmert issued a ruling saying that "it was 'reasonably probable' Skinner would have still been convicted of a triple murder even if recently conducted DNA evidence had been available at his 1995 trial". The Attorneys for Skinner said they would appeal the decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The murders occurred on December 31, 1993, at 804 East Campbell Avenue in Pampa, Texas. Skinner was convicted of the murders on March 18, 1995, and sentenced to death.
Skinner lived with the victims and admitted that he was in the home when the murders took place, but claims he was in a comatose condition from a near lethal dose of codeine and alcohol. In a letter published in April 2010, Skinner put forth a new claim that he was colorblind and accidentally ingested the near-lethal mix because he had confused the victim's "fuchsia pink" glass (which contained codeine) with his own "baby blue" glass. Twila Busby was murdered in the living room just feet from the couch where Skinner claims he was lying passed out on a sofa.
After the murders, Skinner claims he was roused off the couch by one of the mortally wounded victims – Elwin "Scooter" Caler. Caler died on the porch of a neighbor of Twila Busby. Skinner made his way to the home of Andrea Joyce Reed, four blocks away, and she let him in. Reed initially testified that Skinner threatened her if she called the police. Later, however, Reed recanted that claim and said Skinner merely "told" her not to call the police – never actually threatening her.
Skinner was arrested several hours later, being found in the darkened front bedroom of Reed's home. When he was arrested, Skinner was wearing clothes bearing blood spatters that were DNA-matched to two of the victims.