The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to death row inmate Hank Skinner Monday, who was scheduled to be executed Nov. 9.
Multiple items from the crime scene have not been tested for DNA. The stay will determine whether the law allows the DNA to be tested.
Skinner, 49, was convicted of the 1993 deaths of his girlfriend and her two sons in Pampa, Texas. A group of current and former lawmakers, judges and lawyers called on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to order the testing of DNA to "ensure certainty." Skinner came within one hour of execution in March 2010 before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay.
Perry, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, has declined to express an opinion about the upcoming execution, saying only that it's a matter for the courts.
The Huffington Post's Radley Balko reported on the Skinner case last week:
There is DNA from the crime scene that could exonerate Skinner -- or could affirm his guilt -- that has never been tested. That includes blood from the murder weapon, blood from a jacket left in Busby's home, a rape kit taken from Busby, scrapings from under Busby's fingernails and hairs she was clutching at the time of her death -- hairs that likely came from her killer. For more than a decade, Hank Skinner's legal team has tried to get that evidence tested, at no cost to the state of Texas. And for more than a decade, the Texas 31st District Attorney's Office has refused.
Skinner isn't exactly a poster boy for wrongful conviction. He had previously been convicted of assault, and by his own admission he was at the scene of the crime the night of the murders. Skinner's neighbor and ex-girlfriend told police that Skinner came to her home after the crime and implicated himself, then rattled off a number of contradictory stories.
But Skinner has maintained from the night he was arrested that he was passed out from a mixture of alcohol and codeine when the murders were committed. His defense team has produced testimony from toxicology experts who say Skinner had far too high a concentration of the drugs in his system for him -- a slight man at the time -- to have killed an adult woman and her two adult sons. At best he was groggy. He was likely unconscious. The state did conduct DNA testing on blood smears on Skinner's shirt, which matched two of the victims. But that could be consistent with Skinner's story, which is that he woke to find the bodies and tried to jostle the victims to see if they were still alive.
Skinner's lawyer, Rob Owen, issued a statement on the stay Monday:
The Court of Criminal Appeals with its decision today, 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 and look forward to the opportunity to make Mr. Skinner's case for DNA testing in that forum.