Truth to Power

Texas: Screw DNA, we’re gonna kill ‘em anyway

Is Texas About To Execute Another Innocent Man?

State officials would rather kill a prisoner than give him a DNA test.

Henry Watkins “Hank” Skinner was supposed to be executed tomorrow, but last Tuesday a Gray County, Texas, District Court judge pushed the date back one month, to March 24. Skinner has been on Death Row in Texas since 1993, awaiting execution for the murder of his girlfriend and her two sons. He has maintained his innocence since his arrest, and investigators from the Northwestern University Journalism School’s Medill Innocence Project have shot numerous holes in the prosecution’s case. But Texas officials refuse to conduct a simple DNA test that could point to the condemned man’s innocence or cement his guilt.

Skinner’s scheduled lethal injection comes shortly after Texas Gov. Rick Perry has removed sympathetic panelists from the state forensic committee’s investigation into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham and replaced them with panelists critics say are stymieing the investigation. Willingham was executed in 2003 for murdering his three daughters by setting fire to his house. Nine arson experts and an investigation published in the New Yorker last year have since made a strong case that Willingham was innocent of the crime.

At the same time, Texas, a notoriously enthusiastic enforcer of the death penalty, continues to lead the nation in DNA exonerations (one county in Texas has produced more genetic exonerations than all but three states). Which makes it all the more disturbing that biological evidence from Skinner’s crime scene remains untested, at the behest of prosecutors and backed up by the courts. You’d think given recent headlines that Texas might be a bit more reluctant to execute a possibly innocent man.</em>

And they call this country civilized.


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