Texas court postpones execution pending DNA appeal
Texas' highest criminal court has postponed the execution of a convicted murderer who argues that new DNA testing of old evidence could prove his innocence.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday delayed the scheduled Wednesday execution of Henry "Hank" Skinner, 49, while it examines how changes in state law concerning DNA test requests apply to his case.
Skinner was convicted and sent to death row in the murder of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in their Texas Panhandle home on New Year's Eve 1993. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution an hour before he was due to die and sent the case back to state courts to decide the question of whether new DNA testing was required.
Skinner's attorneys have requested testing of evidence that was not tested before his trial in 1995, including blood from the murder weapon, blood from a jacket left in Busby's home, rape kit results taken from Busby, scrapings from under Busby's fingernails, and hairs she was clutching when she died. Skinner says he requested the testing before trial, but that his original lawyer ignored him.
Prosecutors have argued against the new tests, saying courts have already ruled against Skinner and that he is stalling.
Last week, Texas Judge Steven R. Emmert was the latest to deny Skinner's request, without explaining why.
In the wake of that ruling, Skinner's supporters gathered more than 120,000 signatures on an online petition urging Gov. Rick Perry to stay the execution to allow for the DNA testing, and on Monday, Skinner's lawyers again appealed to Perry to stay the execution. Skinner also has an appeal pending in federal court.
On Monday, Skinner's lead attorney, Rob Owen, sent a statement to The Times noting that the court ruling "has ensured that Mr. Skinner's request for DNA testing will receive the thorough and serious consideration it deserves."
"We are grateful for the court's action," Owen said, "and look forward to the opportunity to make Mr. Skinner's case for DNA testing in that forum."
--Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Photo: Henry "Hank" Skinner gives an interview on Texas's death row last year. On Monday, a Texas court stayed Skinner's execution, scheduled for Wednesday, while it considers his appeal for DNA testing of evidence in his case. Credit: Michael Mulvey/The Dallas Morning News.