The Hank Skinner execution is slated to take place today in Texas. My criminal defense pals who frequent Twitter pointed out the problem with this case. Most notably, there hasn’t been DNA testing of evidence in the DA’s possession. Interestingly, by pushing forward without DNA testing the State of Texas is giving death penalty opponents another great case for their strongest argument against the death penalty.
I laid that out in a faxed letter to Governor Rick Perry (512 463-1849) today. I’ve pasted it below:
RE: Inmate Hank Skinner-Scheduled Execution March 24, 2010, 6 p.m. CDT
Dear Governor Perry;
I write to join those asking you to order a stay execution in this matter to allow DNA testing for Hank Skinner. The various reports on Mr. Skinner’s conviction are troubling. The biggest problem appears to be a lack of confirmatory DNA testing.
Those who oppose the death penalty make their strongest arguments by pointing to executions of prisoners who may be innocent of their crimes, notwithstanding their convictions. Death penalty opponents make their most compelling case when they point to major irregularities in proceedings. In short, execution of Hank Skinner without confirming DNA testing assists those who oppose the death penalty.
If DNA testing confirms Mr. Skinner’s guilt, nothing is lost by the stay. If on the other hand the testing establishes wrongful conviction, then avoiding his execution demonstrates the integrity of the Texas criminal justice system.
Thanks for your careful consideration of these issues.
More: My Twitter buddy @thetrialwarrior, known in real life as Antonin Pribetic, provides a much more thorough take here. Antonin is a jewel. Great blog on Canada and U.S. justice issues and Twitter amusement to virtually no end.
Last word for now: Late in the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order staying the execution so that it could decide whether it wants to consider Skinner’s civil rights claim that he is entitled to DNA testing under federal civil rights law. Here is more detail at SCOTUSblog laying out the order. It’s a tenuous halt, but a stop all the same. Let’s hope that Texas does the right thing in the meantime and provides access to the evidence for DNA testing.