Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Simple Request to Each Innocence Project

We have sent a letter to each of the 60 innocence projects in the United States requesting each to take a public position opposing the execution of any person who has been exonerated by DNA testing. We have asked also that each of them take a public position against the execution of any person while probative DNA testing remains untested. The body of the letter follows:

As you may be aware, Hank Skinner is to be executed by the State of Texas on the 24th of this month, March 2010. You may not be aware, however, that this execution is unique in its disregard for DNA evidence which corroborates actual innocence. Mr. Skinner’s impending execution therefore is an affront to every innocence project in this country and to every wrongfully-convicted prisoner who prays that innocence will one day absolve him.

Announcing it would do "whatever it took" to "shut up" those who doubted Mr. Skinner's guilt, the State of Texas submitted fourteen pieces of evidence for post-conviction DNA testing. None on the results inculpated Mr. Skinner. To the contrary, the results either excluded him or were deemed “inconclusive.”

Notably, a hair found clutched in the victim’s hand, a hair declared by the district attorney prior to testing to have been grasped from the murderer as the victim struggled for her life, excluded Hank Skinner as the donor.

Without shame, the State quickly secreted other test results, particularly those for bloody and broken fingernail clippings and those for a rape kit. The fingernail clippings are especially significant because Hank Skinner had no fingernail scratches on his body. Nonetheless, the State refuses to reveal those results, the status of the testing, or the physical location of the evidence. Indeed, the State refuses to acknowledge even the existence of the evidence which, prior to testing, was well-kept and allegedly probative. The State’s behavior is particularly egregious since it announced with confidence beforehand that the testing would “put a few more nails in that man’s coffin.”

And finally, the State refuses to release for testing additional probative DNA evidence, though David Protess of the Medill Innocence Project has offered for more than a decade to fund it. Items which remain untested include a bloody knife and a bloody axe handle (the likely murder weapons), a bloody dish towel (found in a trash bag with a handprint from an unidentified third party), and a foreign windbreaker (contaminated with hairs, blood, and sweat.)

Based on the exculpatory results from the hair found clutched in the victim’s lifeless hand, on the significance of that hair as declared by the State when they anticipated Mr. Skinner’s guilt, and on all other exculpatory evidence in this case, we at The Skeptical Juror declare Hank Skinner to be factually exonerated.

But we are only one small voice.

For these reasons, we humbly implore each innocence project in the United States to take a public stand, prior to March 17, 2010, condemning the execution of any person while probative DNA is withheld from testing and scrutiny.

Also, we humbly implore each innocence project in the United States to publicly condemn, prior to March 17, 2010, the execution of any person factually exonerated by DNA testing.

And should you have time to review the specific case of Hank Skinner, and should you find as well that he has been factually exonerated, we humbly implore that you so publicly declare before his execution on March 24, 2010.

With a robust and collective condemnation against the practice of executing factually exonerated individuals, the innocence community will help curtail the abuse of our government’s power to take from its citizenry their inalienable right to life.

We close by reminding you of the tragedy of Cameron Todd Willingham and of all others executed though factually innocent. It is in their legacy we hope to save Hank Skinner’s life.

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