AUSTIN (KXAN) - It took three attempts and 10 years to get the courts to agree to DNA testing, and on Friday, Texas death row inmate Henry W. Skinner's efforts and those of his lawyers were successful.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General has filed a proposed joint order agreeing to Skinner's appeal. The document acknowledges that after "further consideration, the state believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the State."
Skinner's attorneys, listed as having offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago, were notified on Friday of the decision. A final document will need to be drawn up among all parties upon agreement.
Skinner, 50, was convicted in 1995 of the 1993 New Year's Eve beating death of his then-girlfriend, Twila Busby, along with the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons, Randy Busby and Erwin Caler, in Pampa, Texas. Skinner has maintained his innocence and said he was unconscious and intoxicated after drinking a mixture of vodka and taking codeine, and said he lay on the couch at the time of the killings.
Skinner has asked the courts to allow testing on crime scene evidence 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.
Skinner has faced three separate stays of execution since being jailed, the second stay granted in a 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court just 45 minutes before his scheduled execution on March 24, 2010.
Skinner talked with a CNN reporter at his jail cell in October 2010 about how he felt about getting so close to being executed. "I didn't have any choice," he said, when asked if he was scared. As for the DNA testing, he said tests will show the results. "Let the chips fall where they may. If I'm innocent, I go home. If I'm guilty, I die. What's so hard about that?"
In that same interview, an uncle of the murder victims, Dave Brito said, "Test the DNA. Get it over with. Execute him, and get it over with. He's guilty."
A third execution date set for Nov. 9 was also stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Nov 7.
Lead counsel for the State of Texas in the case is Edward L. Marshall.
Michael Morton and DNA testing
Another Texas case where DNA played a key role in getting an inmate released was that of Michael Morton in Williamson County.
While Morton was not on death row, he wrongfully spent nearly 25 years behind bars and was released on Oct. 4 after DNA evidence found on a bloody bandana from the 1986 murder scene of his wife, Christine Morton, showed it not to be Michael Morton's DNA, but that of a man being investigated in another similar killing, named Mark Norwood.
As with Skinner, the DNA testing was not done at the time of Morton's trial. Years later, it was just such a test that led to Morton's exoneration and release.