iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Kirk Bloodsworth

GET UPDATES FROM Kirk Bloodsworth
 

Texas Must Test DNA Before Carrying Out Skinner Execution

Posted: 10/28/11 11:16 AM ET

Test the DNA. That is the simple request of Hank Skinner to Texas officials before they carry out his execution, which is scheduled for November 9. I do not know if Mr. Skinner is innocent or guilty -- but I do know firsthand the critical importance of DNA testing. Nearly twenty years ago, I became the first person in the United States exonerated from death row when post-conviction DNA testing proved my innocence.

In 1985, I was convicted and sentenced to death in Maryland for a crime I did not commit. I spent eight years in prison, two of those on death row, before I obtained the testing that led to my exoneration.

DNA testing not only proved my innocence. Ten years after I was released from prison, DNA helped identify the true person who committed the tragic murder of a young girl for which I had faced execution. That person confessed and is serving life in prison.

The only reason my name was cleared, and the right man brought to justice, is because prosecutors agreed to test the evidence. I am living proof that when scientific evidence is available, there is simply no excuse to refuse testing.

Texas officials have senselessly fought against DNA testing in Mr. Skinner's case for over a decade. Mr. Skinner came within one hour of execution last year before the U.S. Supreme Court intervened. He now faces execution again despite the State's continuing to vehemently block testing of key pieces of never-tested DNA evidence.

Such testing could resolve the doubts that persist in Mr. Skinner's case. For example, a man's windbreaker was found next to the body of Mr. Skinner's girlfriend Twila Busby, who was tragically murdered along with her two sons. Untested DNA evidence on the windbreaker includes blood spatter, human hairs, and perspiration stains. Investigation after Mr. Skinner was sent to Death Row revealed that another suspect had stalked Ms. Busby at a party on the night of the murder and left the party shortly after she did.

It would be indefensible for Texas to execute Mr. Skinner without taking the simple step of testing the DNA evidence. Over a dozen former prosecutors, judges and law enforcement and current and former Texas elected officials have called on state officials, including the Gray County District Attorney, the Texas Attorney General and Governor Rick Perry, to conduct the DNA testing. The State ought to heed these calls and do everything possible to be sure they have convicted the right person, particularly when it comes to death penalty cases.

Since my exoneration, I have worked to ensure that no defendants are denied the critical testing that saved my life. That is why I helped champion a federal law in 2004 to provide funds for post-conviction DNA testing.

Just this year, Texas lawmakers similarly recognized the vital importance of DNA testing. In May, the Texas Legislature passed a law expanding access to post-conviction DNA testing. The new law is designed for cases like Mr. Skinner's, where available DNA evidence has never been tested. Testing reliable scientific evidence can provide certainty and help maintain confidence in the criminal justice system.

The State has absolutely nothing to lose by putting off Mr. Skinner's upcoming execution to allow these tests to be conducted. Whether DNA proves Mr. Skinner's guilt or innocence, Texas officials should not be afraid of seeking the truth.

DNA allowed the mistakes in my case to be caught in time. Texas must test the evidence in Mr. Skinner's case before it is too late.

Kirk Bloodsworth was exonerated by DNA testing in 1993 after spending eight years in Maryland prison, two on death row, for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Bloodsworth was the first exoneree in a capital conviction in the United States.