Will the Supreme Court force Texas to allow scientific testing?

May 24, 2010

Today the U.S. Supreme Court announced that they will hear the case of Henry “Hank” Skinner. Skinner, on Texas death row since 1993, is arguing that he should be allowed to use federal civil rights law to obtain DNA testing that might establish his innocence.  The hearing will take place this Fall.
Skinner’s guilt has been in question since the time of his conviction, and DNA testing, if allowed, could well provide some answers. Prosecutors have tried to prevent Skinner from getting the evidence tested, while Skinner’s lawyers have tried to use civil rights litigation to gain access to the DNA evidence.  As noted previously in this space, such efforts to suppress scientific inquiry that could resolve doubts and answer questions are nothing new in the Lone Star State.

In 1993, Henry Skinner was convicted in Texas of murdering his girlfriend and her two sons.  Although present when the three victims were murdered, Skinner argues he was intoxicated and passed out, thus incapable of committing the crimes. Skinner continues to seek DNA testing of crime scene evidence that has not yet been scientifically examined, and the testing of which he claims would clear him. In March, Skinner was less than an hour away from execution when the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a stay in order to have time to consider the petition they have just agreed to hear.