Court of Criminal Appeals Grants Hank Skinner Stay

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday granted a stay of execution for Hank Skinner. 

Skinner was set to be executed on Wednesday for the 1993 New Year's Eve murders of his live-in girlfriend and her two sons in Pampa. For more than a decade, Skinner has been seeking DNA testing in an effort to prove that he is innocent.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals with its decision today, has ensured that Mr. Skinner's request for DNA testing will receive the thorough and serious consideration it deserves," Skinner's attorney, Rob Owen, said in a statement. 

The court in its order today said it wanted time to consider Skinner's request for DNA testing in light of the changes to post-conviction DNA testing law that legislators approved during the legislative session this year.

"Because the DNA statute has changed, and because some of those changes were because of this case, we find that it would be prudent for this Court to take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case," the court's order states.

Texas first adopted a post-conviction DNA testing law in 2001. The law has been changed three times since then, each time loosening restrictions on access to the tests. 

The appeals court had previously denied Skinner's requests for testing, citing provisions in the law that allowed DNA testing only in cases where analysis was not done during the original trial because the technology did not exist or for some other reason that was not the fault of the defendant. Lawmakers repealed that part of the law this year.

Some DNA evidence was presented at Skinner’s 1995 trial, and it showed that his blood was at the crime scene. Skinner argues the blood was the result of cutting his hand on broken glass left behind by the violent assault on his girlfriend and her sons. Skinner maintains that during the killings he was passed out on the couch, intoxicated from a mixture of codeine and vodka (a toxicology report confirmed that he had high amounts of both in his system). 

His trial lawyers did not seek testing on a rape kit, biological material from his girlfriend's fingernails, sweat from a man’s jacket, a bloody towel or knives from the crime scene. They feared the results might be incriminating. Since 2001, Skinner has sought testing on those items.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who is also chairman of the Innocence Project, wrote the law that passed this year further opening up access to post-conviction DNA tests. He has said Skinner's case was among those he had in mind when he wrote the measure.

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