The trial judge who initially decided Hank Skinner would die Feb. 24 — one week from today — has pushed the execution date back to March 24, says Skinner attorney Rob Owen, co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic.

Skinner was convicted in 1995 of strangling and bludgeoning to death his girlfriend and stabbing to death her two sons. Skinner has always professed his innocence. He admits to having been in the house at the time of the murders, but toxicology tests verify that he was so inebriated from vodka and codeine that he was nearly comatose at the time of the murders. Skinner and his lawyers argue that DNA evidence found at the scene of the crime could exonerate him. Texas courts, though, have refused to allow the testing.

The state has DNA evidence from a rape kit and fingernail clippings collected from Twila Busby, the murdered girlfriend. They also have blood from knives found at the scene and hair and sweat from a man's windbreaker. Those items have never been tested.

Late last week, Skinner and his attorneys took their request to the U.S. Supreme Court. They asked the nation's highest court to force the state to allow the DNA testing and to stay Skinner's execution until the testing results are analyzed.

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You can look at the order here. And here's the statement from Skinner's lawyers:

"Today, February 17, we received notice for the first time that the judge of the convicting court yesterday withdrew Mr. Skinner’s previously scheduled February 24 execution date, apparently upholding our challenge to the previously issued warrant of execution as void under Texas law.

We are dismayed that the court chose, in the same order, to re-schedule Mr. Skinner’s execution for March 24.  This unseemly haste to execute Mr. Skinner ignores the growing public concern and outcry over the unanswered questions about Mr. Skinner’s guilt.  Now, more than ever, DNA testing is necessary to resolve those doubts.

Setting a March 24 execution date also means that Mr. Skinner’s pending lawsuit against the Gray County District Attorney in the United States Supreme Court, seeking the much-needed DNA testing, must now be resolved under needless and entirely artificial time pressures.  Given that the District Attorney stands to benefit directly from that undue haste, it is especially disappointing that the court chose to press forward with Mr. Skinner’s execution on March 24.

In addition, there is a very serious legal question whether the trial court even has the authority to set an execution date for someone, like Mr. Skinner, whose post-conviction challenges to his conviction and death sentence have never been heard by the Texas courts.

We remain committed to obtaining the DNA testing our client says will prove his innocence, and will take every available legal step to that end."

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