The Supreme Court put off the execution of a Texas convicted person whose DNA evidence was never tested in the case against him. For once, it looks like the highest court in the land ruled in favor of an individual. Hank Skinner has been allowed to live for a while, at least until all doubts are settled. That is a basic standard of justice.

In the Skinner case, evidence that was obtained at the crime scene was neglected even though the person Texas courts condemned to execution protested he was not there, and was innocent. Another person has been implicated in the crime.

Skinner was set to die Wednesday for the 1993 murders of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two mentally disabled adult sons — a massacre he says he did not commit. For more than a decade, Skinner has been asking Texas courts to test a slew of DNA evidence that was not analyzed during his 1995 trial. His entreaties have been repeatedly rejected. In the days before his death, Gov. Rick Perry’s office was inundated with thousands of letters from around the world requesting such testing. Some state lawmakers asked Perry to postpone the execution to allow for analysis of the evidence. But he didn’t have to act on Wednesday. About an hour before Texas officials were scheduled to push a poison cocktail through Skinner’s veins, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay.

Skinner got the news as he was eating his last meal at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Walls Unit in Hunstville. Officials there said he was tucking in to a cheeseburger that was among the smorgasbord of items he ordered to eat before his execution: a salad with ranch dressing and bacon bits, Popeye’s chicken, fried catfish, onion rings and a chocolate milkshake. “I had made up my mind I was going to die,” Skinner said. “I feel like I really won today.”

The court issued an indefinite stay, but it did not agree to accept Skinner’s case. The court said it needed more time to review Skinner’s claims and to decide whether to intervene. “This action suggests that the court believes there are important issues that require closer examination,” said Rob Owen, Skinner’s attorney and co-director of the University of Texas School of Law’s Capital Punishment Clinic. “We remain hopeful that the court will agree to hear Mr. Skinner’s case and ultimately allow him the chance to prove his innocence through DNA testing.”

While prosecutors tested some DNA evidence — blood samples from Skinner’s clothing that placed him at the scene of the crime — a pile of DNA evidence went unexamined, including a rape kit, murder weapons and other biological samples found the night of the murders.

For a person to be condemned to die, there should be no stone unturned to prove his guilt. In this case, that standard was not met.

I would love to have more reason to thank the Supremes for actions like this, that actually uphold this country’s claim to be under the Rule of Law. This time, they acted well and made the country proud.

Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.

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