DNA testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner sought for more than a decade further implicates him in the New Year’s Eve 1993 triple murder for which he was sentenced to die, according to an advisory that the Texas attorney general’s office filed Wednesday in Gray County state district court.
But a lawyer for Skinner, who was convicted in 1995 of the murders of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in Pampa, said the DNA testing is incomplete and indicates that another person may have been at the scene of the crimes.
“We find it troubling that the Attorney General’s Office has seen fit to release partial results of the DNA testing and submit its ‘advisory’ to the court while the DNA testing is still in progress,” Rob Owen, co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic, said in an emailed statement.
Skinner has steadfastly maintained his innocence, claiming that he was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine. Beginning in 2000, he pleaded for DNA testing that he argued would prove his claims. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution less than an hour before he was scheduled to die and agreed to hear arguments in his case. Skinner sought testing on a slew of crime scene evidence that was not analyzed at his original trial, including a rape kit, biological material from Busby’s fingernails, sweat and hair from a man’s jacket, a bloody towel and knives.
Lawyers for Skinner and the state finally agreed in June to testing. In the advisory filed Wednesday, state lawyers said the DNA results further confirmed that Skinner, 50, was responsible for the murders.
“DNA evidence collected at the crime scene consistently indicated Skinner was guilty of strangling and bludgeoning Ms. Busby to death in the living room of her home on New Year’s Eve 1993,” the advisory states. “Crime scene evidence also showed that Skinner was responsible for the stabbing deaths of Randy Busby and Elwin ‘Scooter’ Caler.”
The AG’s office reported that a rape kit did not indicate that Busby was sexually assaulted, and vaginal swabs did not reveal DNA from any other person. Fingernail scrapings and hairs from Busby’s body also did not reveal another person’s DNA, the advisory states.
The DNA results, state lawyers wrote, also show that Skinner’s blood was found in the back bedrooms of the house, where Randy Busby was found stabbed to death in the back. Skinner’s DNA was identified in blood stains from a tape, in two blood stains on a tennis shoe, a blood stain from the bedspread, a blood stain on a cassette holder and on a blood stain near a dresser in the boys’ bedroom.
Skinner’s DNA was also found on the handle of a bloody knife that was recovered from the front porch of the home, along with DNA from Caler and at least one other contributor, who was not identified.
But testing was not done on a man’s jacket found at the scene, because that item had been lost. Owen has said the jacket is a critical piece of evidence that must be tested, because it looks like one that Twila Busby’s uncle Robert Donnell wore.
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Statement from Attorney for Hank Skinner in Response to Initial DNA Test Results in Hank Skinner Case
“We find it troubling that the Attorney General’s Office has seen fit to release partial results of the DNA testing and submit its ‘advisory’ to the court while the DNA testing is still in progress. The partial results which have been produced by the initial round of DNA testing show that at least one person other than Hank Skinner and the victims may have been present in the house on the night the murders took place, and may have had contact with one of the weapons used in the killings.
We will remain unable to draw any strong conclusions about whether the DNA testing has resolved the stubborn questions about Hank Skinner’s guilt or innocence until additional DNA testing has been completed, and the data underlying that DNA testing has been made available to our experts for a detailed review.
Specifically, DNA testing of a carpet sample from the bedroom occupied by victims Elwin Caler and Randy Busby reveals a mixture of the DNA of Mr. Caler and that of an unknown person who is not Mr. Skinner, Randy Busby, or Twila Busby.
In addition, DNA testing of one stain on a knife that may well have been used in the murders reveals a mixture of DNA from three contributors. Two of those contributors appear to be Mr. Caler and Mr. Skinner, but the third contributor is someone other than Mr. Caler, Mr. Skinner, Randy Busby or Twila Busby.
The DPS crime laboratory submitted the unknown DNA profile from the carpet sample to the Texas law enforcement DNA database, but that search produced no matches.
We have requested additional DNA testing that could improve the quality of the unknown DNA profile from the carpet sample, to allow authorities to submit it to CODIS, the national law enforcement DNA database, to search for matches there. We have also requested additional DNA testing of the stains from the knife, likewise hoping to develop further the DNA profile of the third contributor.
All the parties must do everything in their power to make sure Texas does not make an irreversible mistake.”
– Rob Owen, attorney for Hank Skinner | Clinical Professor, University of Texas School of Law
November 14, 2012
- Texas AG: New tests don’t clear death row inmate (star-telegram.com)
- Texas appeals court stays pending execution to allow DNA testing (sentencing.typepad.com)