Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hank Skinner Part VII: The Physical Evidence

Assuming Andrea Reed was truthful during her recantation, the jury that convicted Hank Skinner and sentenced him to death did not know that Hank was too inebriated to climb a few stairs or to remove his own shirt. Nor did they know that the police, early on, suspected another person was involved in killing Twila, Elwin, and Randy.

It’s easy to understand why the police thought someone else was involved. There were bloody bootprints leading to the front door, though Hank seemingly went out the back. And the bootprints were size 11-12, way too large for Hank Skinner. Hank stands 5’ 9” and weighs 140 pounds. His shoe size is 9½. He was found wearing socks that night, but no shoes. He owned no boots, nor were any found.

Elwin, on the other hand, was a large person, and he apparently left through the front door, mortally wounded. But he was found wearing only a pair a bloody underpants. It seemed likely, therefore, that the boot prints were made by someone other than Hank or Elwin. Perhaps they were placed there by the person who killed three people that night.

Also found were bloody handprints on both the front and back doors. It was unlikely that Hank went out both doors. Hank’s handprints were on the back door, and suggested Hank went out that way. The handprint on the front storm door, however -- well, that’s another story. The investigators removed the glass pane and placed it in the sheriff’s evidence vault for safe-keeping. Someone later scraped the handprint off the glass while the pane was under control of the sheriff. It is not generally known, to this day, to whom that print belonged.

There was also the bloody X-LG windbreaker found laying across a chair just feet from where Twila fell. It was a DNA gold-mine of blood, hairs, and sweat. The state would test none of it though, nor would they allow anyone else to test it. Instead, they would have Twila’s mother testify in trial that her daughter liked to wear over-sized coats. That's way better than testing the DNA of the sweat on the windbreaker.

The center of Hank’s defense seemed to be that Hank was so smashed out of his mind that he couldn’t possibly have committed the crime. Not only did Andrea’s testimony destroy that defense, it tainted Hank as a liar. It gave the jury carte blanche for ignoring every thing Hank or his attorney had to say. If Hank was willing to lie about the foundation of his defense, the jurors would realize, then he would lie about anything big or small.

Had I been advising Hank’s defense team, I would suggested the focus of the defense should be on the other piece of evidence that suggested someone else was there that night. I would have told them to focus on the handprint found on the trash bag. That print was tested, and it did not belong to Hank. That print was Hank’s one best hope to avoid the needle.

Found inside the trash bag were a knife and a bloody dish towel. The dish towel had probably been used to clean the prints from the knife, since none were found there. Whoever put the items in the trash bag left his print on the bag. It wasn't Hank's handprint on the bag, and it wasn't Hank who that night wiped down the knife with the dish towel.

Found on the front porch were a second knife and some bloody gauze. Someone wiped down that second knife with the gauze. That’s the same modus operandi as for those items in the trash bag, the bag with the handprint that did not belong to Hank Skinner.

The items on the front porch were clearly not left by the person who went out the back door; they were left instead by the person who went out the front. That was the same person who left the now-missing bloody handprint on the front storm door; the same person who left the too-large-for-Hank bootprints leading to the front door; the same person who left the not-Hank-Skinner handprint on the trash bag, that contained the towel that wiped the knife that stabbed the victim. And that person wasn't Hank Skinner.

It all led back to the handprint on the trash bag. That print did not then and does not now belong to Hank Skinner.

On to Part VIII: To Test or Not To Test.

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