Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Godspeed, Hank Skinner

Today, untold numbers of innocent people will die at the hands of another human being. It's called homicide. 

A few of those people will begin the day knowing it will be their last. Hank Skinner is likely to be one of the unfortunate few. If Texas executes him today, as now seems likely, the cause of death will be recorded as "homicide."

The discomfort one feels about any of the many homicides that will occur today is related to how close one is to the victim. As I've worked uncounted hours on the Hank Skinner case these last two months, I've tried to focus on the case, not the person. There's a pragmatic but selfish reason for this. It hurts too much if you get too close.

I've come to realize that people who work in the world of wrongful convictions must exist in a narrow window of emotional stability. They must be sufficiently sensitive and passionate to throw themselves into heartbreaking situations with little hope of success. At the same time, they must be not so sensitive, not so passionate that they become overwhelmed and incapacitated by their emotions. I live dangerously close to the latter limit.

Last Sunday morning I learned that Hank Skinner had sent me a package via Fed Ex. I was given no insight as to the contents. 

The package arrived yesterday morning. I secreted myself to a bedroom where I could open it in privacy. I'll reveal no more of my reaction.

Someone, I suspect Hank's wife Sandrine, had copied every page of our ten part series on the Hank Skinner case. On top of that 21 page document, someone had placed our post in which we declared Hank Skinner to be factually exonerated. Hank numbered every paragraph for reference. Starting on the 11th of March,  he began what turned into a 24-page, hand-written letter in which he commented on the paragraphs one by one.  He printed each word neatly in pen, on lined paper, writing in all caps. He filled each sheet of paper, top-to-bottom, side-to-side, front and back. Only in rare instances did he need to scratch out anything or insert something later. His writing was far more accurate on the first pass than my typing is as I write this post.

Sometimes he agreed with what I said. Sometimes he offered refinements and corrections. Sometimes he provided additional insight that I would not otherwise be able to learn on my own. Mostly he pointed out where I did not get the facts quite right.

I'll rely on his words to explain why he would go to such trouble while the weight of the Texas judicial system bore down on him. 

I've seen some msgs from your daughter [sic (niece)]; I've read your 10 part expose on my case. Pretty darn good for someone just coming on board. There are a lot of facts to master in my case; a lot of lies, deceit, subterfuge; distortion to wade thru, put out by the State.

Allow me to go thru what you've wrote; offer a little corrective commentary. 

And he does, commenting on most every paragraph I wrote. Consider as an example a paragraph in which I quoted John Mann from a Pampa News article.

My text: "The D.A. said late last week he felt certain the test will prove the hair in Twila's hand is Skinner's which he says convinces him that she fought with him for her life."

Hank's correction: John Mann's actual quote was: "She had hairs sticking out from between her knuckles & caught under her ring, while her hands were clutched into fists. This convinces me that she yanked those hairs from the head of her assailant during the struggle for her life, which she ultimately lost. I believe those hairs & blood came from Hank Skinner."

Consider as a second example my words: "Twila's blood was found on Hank's shirt and pants."

Hank's correction: No, that's not true. Twila's DNA was found on my shirt w/ my blood.

You get the idea. It's the master being patient with the student. Hank knows this case better than anybody, and he knows I vowed to turn his story into a book in our Skeptical Juror series. I presume he wants his story told accurately. I believe he took me under his wing because we were the only ones willing to stand up and declare him factually exonerated.

Sometimes Hank simply agrees with what I wrote. Occasionally he offers a compliment: "Excellent graphic presentation!"

And in the midst of all that sucks to high holy hell, he makes small jokes. "Dear John.  Ha/ha. First time I ever wrote a Dear John letter."  "Execrable, huh? And here I thought that I was one of the few souls left who really understands that term."

There are passages I find difficult to read even now. Regarding the collection of paragraphs in which I discussed how I learned of his case and wrestled with joining the fight at such a late date, he wrote simply. "No comment necessary. Glad you didn't turn your back on me, tho!" And then he added a strange, eyebrow-raised happy face.

The closing hurt the most. 

Thanks for your time & efforts. It means a lot to me. If you wish, if I'm still alive after the 24th, you can write me at this address:
999143 Polunsky Unit
H W Hank Skinner
3872 FM350 South
Livingston TX 77351-8580 

For a quicker message you can use JPay, on the Internet. They print out & deliver them the same day, usually.

I hadn't written Hank as I worked to spare him. I thought about it once and signed up for JPay, but I didn't go through with it. I didn't know what to say. I took the easy way out.

So yesterday morning I wrote a long letter to Hank Skinner. I hope it gets there in time.

And now it's in the very early hours of March 24th. I look from California to Texas and I see two men facing the day in entirely different ways. I see Rick Perry, free and powerful, engaging in willful ignorance, unwilling to even make a statement, much less take a stand. I see a coward.

The other man I see has been held on death row for 16 years, yet takes the time to write a stranger a carefully crafted 24 page letter. On what is likely to be his last day on this earth, he is trying to get the truth out in precise detail. He compliments, teaches, corrects and jokes. Though overwhelmed by all that has been done to him, he stands tall.

Of the two men I see from here, Hank Skinner is by far the more substantial.

Godspeed, Hank Skinner.


1 comment:

n.skinner said...

This article regarding my father's case is one of the most touching I have read & make no mind about it, I am 99.99% sure I have read EVERY article.

Thank you so much for your poignant words...the energy put forth, in itself, is worth more than words can describe.

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