Supreme Court Stays Controversial Texecution

Bump and Update: The Supreme Court has intervened and granted a stay of execution. More details to come.

Original Post 3/23: Controversial Texecution Weds: 30 Day Delay Sought For DNA Testing

Gov. Rick Perry, what's your hurry? Test the DNA before killing Hank Skinner. So says the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and Austin American Statesman.[More...]

The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole has denied Skinner's request for DNA testing that is now available but wasn't at the time of his trial.

There are seven untested items that contain DNA that could be dispositive of Skinner's claim that he was falsely convicted.

The state has blocked that testing, noting that Skinner passed on a chance to have the testing done prior to his 1995 trial. That decision was made by Skinner's trial lawyer, who, noting that other DNA tests on items found at the crime scene damaged his case, didn't want further testing.

There's another possible suspect in the case.

"Evidence developed since Mr. Skinner's trial raises the level of doubt to full-scale alarm that the jury's verdict may very well have been wrong," Skinner's lawyers told Perry in a letter dated March 11 in which they offer a compelling interpretation of facts pointing to another possible suspect — now dead — with possible motive to commit the crime.

An Arizona lab has offered to do the testing for free. Gov. Perry can delay the execution for 30 days for testing to take place. His Facebook page is filled with requests to do so. Will he listen?

More about Hank Skinner's case is here.

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    DNA testing (none / 0) (#1)
    by Zorba on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 06:47:24 PM EST
    has come a long way since 1995.  That, and the fact that his lawyer was an idiot back then, and that there is another viable suspect, and also the fact that it won't cost Texas a dime, leads me to ask- Texas, what the he!! is the matter with you?  If the tests find that Skinner's DNA was on the untested items, then go ahead (although I am an opponent of the death penalty, and consider it barbaric).  If it's not his DNA, then you seriously have to consider that the guilty person is still out there, and may well kill again.  And this serves society......just how?  

    I think you may have (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by JamesTX on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 02:08:23 AM EST
    misunderstood the political sentiments which drive Texas culture and politics. For the most significant portion of the base, it is the raw extremist core of theological conservatism. For that group, the issue is not factual innocence or guilt in relation to the specific crime charged. It isn't even whether one deserves the death penalty or whatever punishment for the crime of which they are convicted. It is about authoritarianism and "respect for authority". Conservative base Texans believe deeply in granting unlimited power to those whom they deem worthy, and they oppose in principle any challenge to the power of those authorities. They believe all but the "business class" in the state are expendable in the quest to preserve the power of authorities, which they perceive as the basis of social order. They do not value deliberation and debate on matters involving social control of those below the business class. They believe all decisions by authorities in matters regarding the rights of the working class should be honored and respected without question. The lives and freedom of those below the business class are not worth bringing their justice system under question, complicating the decisions of the appointed powerful with facts, and raising the possibility that their overly simplified world might not be universally just. They believe poverty and its resulting powerlessness is imposed on people in an orderly way by a just god, primarily as punishment for moral failure. The punishment of the factually innocent therefore does not bother them. They do not see it as error. The powerless who fall victim to errors in the justice system are seen to be powerless because they have been made powerless by a just god as punishment for moral failing. Therefore, there is no such thing to them as punishment of innocents, or errors or miscarriages of justice. They believe police and prosecutors are their loyal peers and are infallible when taken together with their theological economics.

    The class just above the base is the business class. They are mostly atheist, although they pretend to be evangelical Christians for the benefit of the working class in order to maintain the mythical system that preserves their social power. They believe they are economically privileged because they are more intelligent than the working class and because of inherited familial wisdom and moral fortitude. To them, the protections of our legal system exist only for the business class, because they see it as not being economically feasible or cost effective to maintain such rights for the rank and file. They, too, above all, see the sanctity of authority and the absolute infallibility of authorities as being the most important force maintaining the social order they enjoy, keeping them comfortable and safe, and keeping them safely separated from those below their social class.

    You asked what is wrong with Texas. I've lived here all my life. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that is exactly what is wrong. Of course, they don't see it as...wrong.


    I hope that you're wildly (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Zorba on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 08:10:05 AM EST
    exaggerating, James.  If not, may I extend my sincerest sympathies to you for living there?  And remind me not to move there.

    I wish (5.00 / 0) (#10)
    by JamesTX on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 07:44:50 PM EST
    I were exaggerating! When the backlash found its home in Texas during the last couple of decades of the twentieth century, I watched in disbelief as the dynamic I describe above become the norm. It is real. It isn't a very healthy or comfortable place for those who have anything beyond the most primitive capacity for moral reasoning, unless, of course, for those who have the assets to isolate themselves from the facts! Poverty isn't fun anywhere. I fully realize that. But it has a particularly ugly face here because of what I described.

    I was old and had already inadvertently established things like a family and other obligations here before I came to fully understand that what I have described above is the truth. I was stuck here before I realized I had a serious personality conflict with the typical citizen of Texas. I am actually a third and fourth generation native. That perspective allows me to understand things that are not widely known about this situation. For instance, the dynamic I describe in my post actually came from outside the state. It is not based in Texas history or culture. It didn't originate here, but was constructed through a process of projective identification. During the backlash, many people who were economically displaced by the industrial collapses of the late twentieth century moved here for jobs and the relatively agreeable cost of living to go with those jobs. It was a relatively easy place to set up a new life. As a very human part of that type of migration -- people moving from far away areas to something strange and new -- they naturally developed ideas to make the process a little more exciting and a little more comfortable. They came to identify with an image of Texas which they got from childhood western movies and television programming. They identified the state with a sort of "Judge Roy Bean" form of simplistic frontier justice and "traditional values". They adopted those sentiments mildly at first. It was a welcome antidote for the real and imagined social ills of the twentieth century -- whatever they associated with the demise of their original communities. They built a storybook fantasy of Texas as the solution to those social problems they left behind.

    What really created this monster was that these people were aggravated and tired of condescension from "latte-sipping liberals" who were making them uncomfortable with things like legitimatization of homosexuality and politically correct speech. They didn't really hate gays, nor were they opposed to sensitivity and acceptance of differences in general. They just didn't understand how to behave in the presence of social dynamics and processes which they had no experience with. Those relatively mild and understandable fears were stirred up to a froth in evangelical churches. The churches capitalized on the fatigue of these people from being publicly embarrassed and punished for not learning the new language fast enough. So they got mad and decided to tell the progressive thinkers to go to hell altogether, and the Texas fantasy gave them something to identify with in the process. What started out as a mild pretense became a serious conviction. We could have actually had a lot more friends among that crowd if we had been a little more tactful in promoting our values and views, rather than making a popular hobby of publicly humiliating people who simply uttered offensive things out of ignorance or background, simple lack of information, or no experience on which to base acceptable forms of behavior. In a way, those of us who fancy ourselves progressives actually created our worst enemies. As a progressive, I naturally believe in the basic good in people, and I think the progressive movement wasted many opportunities to bring out that good in many people who we have now permanently lost. Instead, we ridiculed their ignorance and made fun of them. I accept part of that blame.

    After the momentum of the Regan movement got started, the place fell like dominoes. It became more and more extreme. The place is now a boiling cauldron of hate and fear and struggle. The loss of the lege and all other branches of the government to Republicans sort of sealed our fate. It just keeps getting worse. Someday I hope to move, but I am not sure I will ever be able to. I just keep hoping some type equilibrium force will kick in. Maybe things will get better simply because they have gone so far in the wrong direction.


    Fourth Generation (none / 0) (#12)
    by Rojas on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 08:20:27 PM EST
    Then you were here when the feds took over the prisons....
    Do you have an inclination on how that may have shaped attitudes?

    I was here, but (none / 0) (#15)
    by JamesTX on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 10:14:21 PM EST
    I really don't remember that much about it. The news was fairly meaningless to the general population (the electorate) because it addressed internal details that the public just wasn't widely aware of. It had no grand excitement value. It also involved concepts the public can't digest or comprehend under the Texas-tuff political model of what prison is and how the physical process actually works. If prison worked the way the typical Texas-tuff citizen would like it to work, most inmates simply wouldn't live very long, which is really the point. The typical Texas-tuff transplant citizen can't understand concepts like prisoners getting medical care or being allowed to eat or sleep. To them, that is unacceptable liberal coddling -- a federal liberal conspiracy which, when revealed, would confirm their suspicions all along. That is, prisoners live lives of luxury and actually secretly run the federal government. They have the best of all possible worlds and live and eat better than George Bush. They actually spend all day keeping up with the paperwork on all their sentence reductions and investing the winnings from all their lawsuits against the state. Most have to commit five new murders a day in order to be allowed to stay incarcerated until 2 PM for the filet mignon and lobster lunch. This requires that the guards let them out to kill children in local school yards.  Lately, they are running low on children, and there is a crisis developing with the prospect of another suit for not getting the lobster. I suspect the system doesn't want the public knowing many details about what is really going on inside, so they willingly bit their tongues a lot throughout that process and just tried to get it over with? It was easier just to let the preachers whine vaguely and non-specifically about the "coddling" and the federal encroachment without really getting the public involved with any factual details. A good whining preacher can upset a whole lot of people for a long time, and get them to vote for a Republican, without ever telling them exactly what they are upset about. Maybe it would have been more costly to get the public involved than it was worth, even though they could have been counted on to scream bloody murder. During that time the backlash was brewing, so it was one of the things that conservatives harped on -- "coddling" at taxpayer expense, the beginnings of the "activist judge" meme, etc. But for the most part, it didn't effect much of anyone outside of (what was then) TDC. I really don't remember that much about it. A friend of mine attended a trial in Judge Justice's court, though! The plaintiff lost by jury. I suspect they wouldn't have lost if it was decided by the judge -- another example of what I wrote about. Some rural cops beat a guy inside a jail. The jury gave 'em a medal.

    It's seems a convenient detail to forget (none / 0) (#18)
    by Rojas on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 08:02:40 AM EST
    The system eventually melted down. It got to the point that 22 days served for every year of a sentence was result.
    Kenneth McDuff is a name you might recall. He had a bit of influence with shaping attitudes about the death penalty in Texas.

    Hi Rojas, (none / 0) (#19)
    by JamesTX on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:24:27 AM EST
    I guess I didn't understand what you are getting at. I guess what you are saying is that Texans are entitled to their bizarre attitudes because they have been abused by a "pro-criminal" liberal federal judiciary.

    Poor things.

    First of all, William Wayne Justice is dead and there aren't a whole lot of the newer appointees that can be expected to follow in the footsteps of the judges of his era. The social context in which his ruling emerged is gone. It is only of historical interest. The federal bench has changed in the direction you seem to favor, so I wouldn't worry a lot about it. Big Tex gets his way about most everything, including criminal justice. So I can't buy into the "poor me, assaulted by a liberal federal judge and nobody cares" mentality. Generally, law and order types don't have too much trouble with the concept that you can't break the law even if your heart is in the right place. Texas, like other southern states, treated state prisoners viciously and at some point the federal government had to bring 19th century southern plantation justice into to the 20th century. They still have the capacity to abuse, and always will. I'm sorry, but I don't see the state as "victims" of an activist federal judge. If they wanted to be left alone, all they had to do was provide the basic constitutional protections required by standards of humanity today in the times in which they are operating, and they have shown that they can do it and still make life miserable for the prisoners. Eventually, you have stop breaking people's bones and tying them to whipping posts and get yourself an electronic torture device, a psychological torture expert, and learn big fancy terms like "failed to comply" even if it's more fun to do it the old fashioned way and it looks better with your Stetson. They could have done the right thing on their own; but, as usual, they had to be tuff and be sure nobody saw them cooperating with liberals. So the W.W. Justice issue wasn't really what I see as a blatant instigation deserving of righteous indignation. When you don't value human rights, and you are part of a constitutional democracy which does, blatant disregard and refusal to conform will eventually lead to corrective action. Reasonable people would expect that. It's over, and there really isn't that much damage. Never will I be able to accept that massive disregard for human rights can be justified by pointing to single cases like McDuff. That is a fallacy. For every McDuff you can show me, I can show an equally egregious abuse of state power that proceeds with impunity.

    I wouldn't say things like McDuff created the attitudes. I would say people who already had the attitudes tend to use cases like McDuff to support their arguments. And no, I don't see anything remotely reasonable or sane about attitudes in Texas. I have already explained why.


    What I'm getting at James (none / 0) (#21)
    by Rojas on Sat Mar 27, 2010 at 07:39:51 AM EST
    Is that the system melted down and there are reasons for that. The melt down had less to do with Baptists with Stetsons and damn Yankees than you give 'em credit for.

    Now I understand you thesis gets you lots of high fives from this group and that's to be expected. Hardly anyone likes to take responsibility for their actions.

    The Texas prison system was simply not sized to house all the new criminals we created when we decided jail was the answer for all our social problems.

    Violent offenders got their good time credits right along with the gas station attendants who supplemented their income by selling a few ounces of pot. One does not need to channel Jimmy the Greek to see the outcome of that policy over time.

    Yes James if you were here you saw what the rest of us saw. In the months following any horrific crime the cops would eventually get their man. And then the news would come out. Inevitably it would be announced that the suspect had been through the revolving door several times, with a slew of victims in their wake.

    This hardened attitudes to the point that life long Democrats started checking the box for all Republicans when they got to the Judicial section of the ballot. And yes, eventually, we started building prisons.

    To the extent that this wasn't very smart you'll get no disagreement from me. In fact, I think if you read my previous comments you'd see this is mostly blue on blue here. The difference being, I'm not going to attribute all the madness to a southern, right wing bogeyman. It's reactionary nonsense and that's what I think of your thesis.

    It's not hard to test. If you were correct these issues would be limited to Texas or at most the Bible belt. On that note I believe an objective observer can decide for themselves.


    I agree with (none / 0) (#22)
    by JamesTX on Sat Mar 27, 2010 at 01:48:08 PM EST
    your premise about overcrowding and its causes. The Willie Horton public relations technique is something different, though, and it can be implemented successfully regardless of prison space or prison conditions. So I don't think public outcry was as much the result of the facts of overcrowding as it was that it simply represented a meme that Baptists with Stetsons want to hear. Even though the problem is history, the media still uses the method, obviously because it is what conservatives want to hear. Nowadays it is comical. I can hear it now:

    The suspect in the refusal to sign the traffic ticket had a long and rocky history of trouble with the law. She got another ticket in 1971, and in 1984 she was late on her property tax payment.

    That is what the Willie Horton media technique looks like now, but it still plays like a hit with conservatives. It is the idea they love, not the facts behind it. I am not sure the public really knew that much about the prison problem, otherwise they would have realized what you have said -- overcrowding is inevitable when you send everybody below the median income to jail.

    And I agree the fundamental issues are not limited to Texas. It is just that Texas was a stronghold for the movement and it remains a hotbed of bizarre attitudes which are not based in reality.


    Texas "more liberal" than Mass.? (none / 0) (#23)
    by Rojas on Mon Mar 29, 2010 at 05:06:20 AM EST
    If you're still reading James, Scott over at the excellent Texas criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast has shared some thoughts on this issue.

    The money quote:

    Years ago I quit applying such strict ideological labels on criminal justice politics. Excepting a handful of hot-button culture war issues, in practice, ideological predilections by both liberals and conservatives usually cut both directions. There are small government conservatives who promote scaling back incarceration and big government liberals who insist there's no social problem which criminal enforcement can't resolve. The whole "left-right" continuum hardly applies on these questions - people's real-world views simply don't conform to those artificial constructions on criminal justice politics.

    What we've witnessed for most of my adult lifetime in Texas is a bipartisan "tuff on crime" consensus that both liberals and conservatives could support for different reasons. That's changing now to a certain extent, driven in equal parts by reactions to scandals and immediate budget needs. And if it makes folks in Massachusetts feel inferior, that's yet another good argument for continuing down a reformist path.

    Its a surprising paradox (5.00 / 0) (#6)
    by Jen M on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 06:00:14 PM EST
    They (not just Texans) claim to distrust big government and all, but have an absolute unquestioning trust in authority figures.

    I've never been able to figure it out.


    Let's face it (none / 0) (#5)
    by jbindc on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 05:23:46 PM EST
    It's also an election year and Perry is in a close fight with former Houston mayor Bill White.

    Hi jbindc, (none / 0) (#11)
    by JamesTX on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 07:46:56 PM EST
    Clearly I think dc must be a long way, because there is no contest between Perry and White. White will lose. Period. Where did you get an idea like that?

    I don't know (none / 0) (#14)
    by Yman on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:14:33 PM EST
    I wouldn't want to place money on a Democratic candidate running for governor in Texas, but a 5 1/2 point lead this far out doesn't seem like a sure thing.

    I keep waiting for that big (none / 0) (#16)
    by JamesTX on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 10:18:35 PM EST
    correction I was talking about, but I don't see it. Nothing I hear sounds like anything but more of the same with some added anger about Obama turning us into a socialist state and convening death panels for elderly Chritians. I would say Liberace getting elected president of Iran is a better bet.

    Recent polls (none / 0) (#17)
    by jbindc on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 05:08:28 AM EST
    I don't know that much about it, not following Texas politics there for a while.  (I moved to Texas to go to grad school and ended up living there for 6 years.  I was first motivated to register to vote so I could vote for Ann Richards and against George Bush).

    But I agree - I think Governor Goodhair will win again (how I miss Molly Ivins!), but right now every poll I've seen has them closer than I would have expected.


    outstanding comment (none / 0) (#9)
    by klassicheart on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 07:28:59 PM EST
    oh, i doubt (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 01:35:35 AM EST
    gov. perry will allow that. further, i submit that after the execution, all evidence will be destroyed by the state, to avoid any possibility of it being tested in the future.

    Diogenes Theorem (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 06:19:25 PM EST
    "Skinner had been previously prosecuted for assault and car theft by the very attorney who was in charge of his defense..."

    From Wikipedia.  Added to a history of criminality and violence was high-level alcohol and codeine abuse.  Why do I think that if this man is exonerated by DNA evidence proving that Donell snuck in that within about ten years we'll hear about Skinner committing other assaults or even murders.
    As to "high drug levels"--maybe he killed them and THEN used even more drugs, so forensic evidence based on his blood levels after the fact does not show what the levels were at the time of the crime.  And if it is unlikely that he could have killed a six foot six man, how much more unlikely is it that an intruding rapist uncle of the girlfriend could catch the six foot six inch man off guard.
    Once in a blue moon innocent people may get sentenced to crimes they didn't commit, but Diogenes Theorem says that such innocents are seldom Sunday School teachers and usually are caught up in the bad karma that they have created for themselves.
    And in fact, since the DNA will be reviewed, I guess that the system does work.

    Rojas Theorem (none / 0) (#8)
    by Rojas on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 06:56:28 PM EST
    We are shooting the wrong people....

    Innocents (none / 0) (#13)
    by diogenes on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 08:35:58 PM EST
    Maybe Donell visited the house and left DNA at some point.  Does anyone place him at the scene?  Maybe he forced himself upon the victim outside the house.  Maybe she told her boyfriend Skinner who decided to have a fit of jealous rage and accuse her of leading Donell on or having an affair with him.  
    How likely is it really that Donell would try to come on to a woman by showing up at a house which contains her boyfriend and two sons, one of whom is six foot six?
    Funny how most memories are most credible when put to paper soon after the event whereas people take recantations of testimony in death penalty cases at face value and never prosecute for perjury.
    If you want to have a real Innocence project then research the cases of people with NO criminal history who are convicted of first-offense violent crimes.

    I understand (5.00 / 3) (#20)
    by JamesTX on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:45:01 AM EST
    your basic theory:

    If you want to have a real Innocence project then research the cases of people with NO criminal history who are convicted of first-offense violent crimes.

    It is wrong. The crowning accomplishment of the conservative movement was a renewed in faith your idea. That is the idea that there are two types of people in the world -- good and bad. The claim is that there is no reason to worry about guilt or innocence for specific crimes, but only about accurate evaluation of the overall goodness or badness of the person. As such, there really isn't a need to base the system on accountability for specific crimes. We would be better served by simply determining who is bad and who is good, perhaps proactively, and be done with it.

    It is a flawed idea. The problem is that it just isn't true. The whole idea that people can be sorted out accurately based on past behavior, and that past behavior predicts future behavior to any degree of accuracy which would justify your approach, is simply false. I realize it is somewhat comforting to see the world in such a simple light. It would be nice if human behavior were that simple. It would be nicer if defining good and bad people could be made that simple. I realize it is simple for you, but I would think you would allow some wiggle room for those who choose not to ignore the data to the contrary, especially since human rights are involved.