- On December 31, 1993, (New Year's eve) Skinner's live-in
girlfriend Twila and her two adult sons were stabbed to death in Pampa,
TX. On March 18, 1995, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
- On November 9, he'll be executed, despite convincing
evidence he's innocent. Justice will be denied. As America's death penalty
capital, Texas rarely grants it.
- Since presidential aspirant Rick Perry took office in
December 2000, 234 executions occurred, more than under any other modern
governor. At the same time, he refuses to admit erroneously putting anyone
innocent to death, despite over 130 exonerated inmates nationwide since
- In fact, 12 were in Texas, besides known and unknown
others unjustly facing execution. Unless Skinner's spared at the 11th hour,
he'll be number 13.
- Capital punishment is barbaric and cruel. Amnesty International
(AI) call it "the ultimate denial of human rights. It is premeditated
and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman
and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice."
- There's nothing just about state-sponsored murder, especially
against wrongfully convicted victims. In America, they're mostly poor Blacks
and Latinos, denied due process and judicial fairness. The system is rigged
to convict known innocent defendants.
- Georgia's September 21 cold-blooded murder of Troy Anthony
Davis symbolizes a longstanding rogue practice.
- Sixteen states and the District of Columbia abolished
it. Federal law should have stopped it long ago, ending a system with no
regard for human life.
- It disproportionately affects society's least advantaged
unjustly. On November 9, Henry W. (Hank) Skinner will be its next victim
without 11th hour help to save him.
- His Case
- On December 31, 1993, Skinner ingested Xanax pills and
alcohol. Xanax treats anxiety and panic disorders. It's also used for anxiety-caused
depression and other purposes.
- A benzodiazepine drug, it may, in fact, cause anxiety
and imbalance. It never should be combined with alcohol.
- Skinner also took a heavy codeine dose. Around 10:15PM,
he passed out. A close friend, Howard Mitchell, tried to revive him. His
August 1994 court affidavit said:
- "When I got there, Mr. Skinner was laying on the
couch asleep, and there was a large bottle of vodka on the coffee table.
I grabbed Mr. Skinner's arm about five times. I got no reaction from Mr.
Skinner. He was out cold."
- Letting him to sleep it off, Mitchell and Twila headed
for a New Year's party. Trial testimony said Twila left early. From the
"Statement of Testimony At Trial" filed on behalf of Skinner's
- "Mitchell and Twila left the appellant alone in
the house and drove to Mitchell's trailer where a party was in progress.
Twila's uncle, Robert Donnell, got very drunk at the party."
- "Donnell was a big man with a hot temper who carried
a knife in the trunk of his car. He had used force to collect a drug debt
from a woman and sexually molested a young girl when she was asleep. Donnell
followed Twila around at the party as if he was stalking her and made rude
sexual advances. Twila became agitated and asked Mitchell to take her home."
- She arrived between 11:00 and 11:15PM. Shortly afterwards,
she and her youngest son were stabbed to death. Her older son was also
stabbed, but managed to flee to a neighbor's yard and collapse. He never
regained consciousness and died.
- A neighbor found him around midnight and called the police.
Earlier that evening, Skinner drank heavily. He also ingested a near fatal
codeine dose. He's severely allergic to the drug yet took it anyway. His
allergy induces lethargy, delirium, hallucinations, and in Skinner's case
- Combined with Xanax and alcohol, testimony and evidence
showed he was unconscious when the murders were committed.
- Forensic toxicologist William T. Lowry testified at trial
that Skinner's condition rendered him physically incapable of committing
the crimes. He also said the positioning of his handprints around the crime
scene was consistent with someone stumbling around in a stupor. He was
- Other forensic evidence showed Twila was also strangled
by someone strong enough to leave permanent flesh indentations. The killer
had extremely powerful hand strength.
- In contrast, Skinner's right hand was impaired by an
earlier injury. He's also a small man, weighing about 140 pounds. At trial,
the medical examiner showed how Twila was strangled powerfully with both
- Skinner was clearly innocent. He also lacked motive.
Only someone strong in a rage could have done it.
- When police arrived to arrest him, they took no precautions
to preserve the crime scene. Skinner said "they trampled the crime
scene badly." During pre-trial hearings, it was learned that up to
18 officers and a dog went through the house.
- Police found a bloody pickaxe handle and bloodstained
knife. They also identified numerous handprints around the house. Skinner,
of course, lived there. Two identified as his were found on the bathroom
and laundry room doors.
- Others were identified on or near a door leading from
the kitchen to the utility room at the rear of the house. Another was found
on the door leading outside.
- An affidavit submitted by Peace Officer J. Wallace said:
- "Sheriff Stubblefied knew that Henry Watkins "Hank"
Skinner lived with Twila Busby at 801 East Campbell and Sheriff Stubblefield
had a feeling that Skinner was involved."
- Local authorities disliked him because of prior civil
rights work related to addressing the rights of accused individuals, especially
improper activities employed by authorities against them.
- For 10 days, the crime scene was examined with no warrant,
a clear violation of his rights. Nonetheless, at trial, the evidence was
- On January 5, 1994, Glenn Unnasch, Austin's crime lab
Department of Public Safety fingerprint expert, examined the crime scene.
According to Skinner, Pampa police "impeded" his investigation.
- "refused to let him go over the entire crime scene,
but instead directed him to the bloody prints they'd found, and told him
to recover only those. He was told to look only for my prints."
- Skinner's appeal attorney, Steven C. Losch, said in his
Statement of Testimony:
- "Unnasch believed that a search of the crime scene
for latent prints that were not made in blood could have produced important
evidence, but he did not collect it because the Pampa police did not ask
him to do so. Unnasch was also not asked to compare appellant's handprint
to the apparent latent bloody handprint that Burroughs saw on Twila Busby's
- The Statement of Testimony provided more evidence of
investigatory malfeasance. Tests weren't performed on blood evidence that
could have absolved Skinner. Department of Public Safety forensic expert
Gary Stallings didn't examine the alleged murder weapon.
- The Statement of Testimony said he didn't "determine
whether the blood on the blade of the knife that was found on the front
porch was appellant's blood or the blood of one of the victims....Stallings
claimed that it was insignificant" even though prosecutors called
it the murder weapon.
- "....Dr. Peacock preserved (potential rape evidence)
in a rape kit. (It) could have shown that Twila had sexual intercourse
with someone other than appellant on or about the night of the murder."
- Nonetheless, Stallings performed no tests, believing
Twila wasn't raped. "Dr. Peacock and Stallings agreed that human hairs
in the palms of Twila Busby's hand could have come from the head of her
- However, no tests were performed. "Stallings acknowledged
that (the assailant's) blood could have been caught under (Twila's) fingernails.
Clippings of (her) bloody fingernails were preserved and submitted to Stallings
- None were performed. Skinner was judged guilty by accusation
even though plenty of potentially exculpating evidence could have exonerated
him. In testimony, Skinner said:
- "Gary Stallings....testified that there was no need
to test any of the blood on the purported murder weapons, the handprints
or the other surfaces where it was found because if 'wasn't relevant to
the investigation.' "
- If proper investigatory procedures were followed, "(i)t
would've proved my innocence."
- Skinner also said he'd "always been an outspoken
advocate for the Constitution, constitutional rights, and prisoners' rights.
Over the years, I've been active through participation in inmate lawsuits
on jail/prison conditions, have represented inmates at parole revocation
hearings, have advised (them) when their court appointed shysters lied
to them, and discouraged those who claimed innocence from accepting plea
- "I've had many interviews in the Pampa newspaper
on the way (prior) sheriff Jimmy Free treated inmates in jail and violated
their rights. In short, I was an irritant to the government of Gray County,
and particularly to the District Attorney and sheriff's offices."
- As a result, law enforcement officials used Twila's murder
as payback time. Skinner said the District Attorney "didn't give a
damn if I was guilty or not. He was going to 'send me to the pen for a
long, long time.' This crime was the perfect opportunity for him to make
good on that threat and so he did."
- Deliberating only two and a half hours, jurors pronounced
Skinner guilty. Possible jury manipulation affected their decision. According
- "There were a few items suppressed by the judge...But
it was a cursory thing to assuage the defense motion for illegal search
suppression of evidence. Not one item suppressed had any evidentiary value
for the prosecution whatsoever."
- Important evidence was suppressed. When jurors began
deliberating, they requested all available and a tape recorder. "The
judge sent them a note which said all the evidence they were to consider
was already in the jury room. In other words, 'sure, there's other evidence,
but you can't have it.' "
- In 2000, David Protess, former head of Northwestern University
Medill School of Journalism's Innocence Project investigated Skinner's
case. He and student assistants found serious flaws in his case, suggesting
innocence, not guilt.
- On October 9, 2001, Skinner's attorney petitioned for
forensic testing to determine evidence regarding blood tests and other
DNA material on the purported murder weapons.
- He also wanted further DNA testing on a stained dish
towel, rape kit evidence, bloodstained fingernail clippings, hairs and
blood found on a jacket next to Twila's body, and a blood comparison between
Skinner, the murder victims, and primary suspect Donnell.
- He later died in a car accident. Evidence showed he was
- Skinner's motion and appeal were denied. As a result,
his attorney moved for DNA discovery in federal court. In July 2004, federal
magistrate Clinton Averitte granted his motion in part.
- DNA evidence showed GreenScreen lab (now called Orchid-Cellmark)
misinterpreted results and didn't report exculpatory evidence. Their personnel
also didn't cooperate with Skinner's DNA experts.
- On July 25, 2005, the federal magistrate ordered an evidentiary
hearing relating to Skinner's Habeas petition. Held on November 16, 17
and 18, 2005 in Amarillo federal court, Judge Robinson later denied Skinner
in February 2007.
- Filing a motion for DNA testing, Skinners attorneys appealed.
Despite prosecutorial promises to examine all DNA evidence, tests weren't
- On May 14, 2008, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted
a certificate of appealability on two claims. Oral arguments followed on
October 1, 2008 and September 23, 2009. Skinner was again denied.
- On November 23, 2009, his attorneys petitioned the US
Supreme Court. On March 1, 2010, he was denied. In response to subsequent
appeals, the Supreme Court stayed his execution.
- On March 7, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled Skinner may
sue Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer in federal court to have
full DNA evidence tested.
- As explained above, his execution date is scheduled for
November 9. On September 2, his attorneys petitioned the Gray County district
court to compel DNA testing of key evidence not done so far. It's still
- On September 1, Texas law SB 122 took effect. It's to
ensure procedural barriers don't prevent prisoners from testing all relevant
biological evidence, including what previously wasn't examined.
- Skinner's life depends on whether Gray County district
court upholds the law or, with time running out, whether further appeals
for justice so far denied are possible.
- A Final Comment
- On September 10, a Washington Post editorial headlined,
"In Texas, a rush to execute," saying:
- In a September 7 Republican presidential candidate debate,
Governor Perry was asked if he "struggled to sleep at night,"
worrying that innocent victims were among the 234 executions on his watch.
- "No sir," he responded. "I've never struggled
with that at all." Imagine if he's elected president.
- "Henry W. Skinner can attest that sometimes not
even a Supreme Court victory" can grant him judicial fairness in Texas.
- Even though Texas law SB 122 "make(s) it easier
for inmates to secure DNA testing....no judge has yet ruled on Mr. Skinner's
requests." Instead, "the state took the extraordinary step of
rescheduling his execution for Nov. 9."
- In Texas and other states, innocence isn't enough to
assure justice, even on matters of life and death. Skinner's now hangs
in the balance with little time left to save him.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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