Anonymous left a comment on my post Good Morning, Hank Skinner. I want to encourage such behavior, commenting on my posts, so I'll heap praise upon Anonymous for his insightful comment and discuss it herein.
Anonymous is clearly a very bright person, making two good points in the comment. The first has to do with the nature of Hank Skinner's civil rights claim. I'll pass on that for now. The second point is reproduced below.
Reminds me alot of the Coleman case. (Remember he embarrassed the Centurion Ministries with his claims of innocence by DNA testing, that posthumously ended up being untrue.)
This is simply more evidence of Anonymous's brilliance. I do indeed remember how Roger Coleman embarrassed Centurion Ministries. I thought hard about the Coleman case before declaring Hank Skinner to be FACTUALLY EXONERATED!, using all caps and an exclamation mark. Of the pieces I've posted on this blog, I am most proud of that one.
The idea for The Skeptical Juror series of books stemmed from my initial attempt to talk to America's jury pool in a single book detailing ten trials. The Trial of Roger Coleman was the first trial discussed in that never-finished book. One thing I learned from the Roger Coleman case was that you can't "detail" ten cases in one book. I decided instead to detail ten cases in ten books. The first of those, The Trial of Byron Case, is now available on Amazon. The next in the series, The Trial of Cory Maye, will come closer to reality when I stop typing here and begin typing once again on that book. [Note to self: You are too easily distracted.]
To understand what Anonymous and I are discussing, you need an overview of the Roger Coleman Case. Here it is. Roger Coleman was convicted by the State of Virginia and sentenced to death (via the electric chair) for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. He proclaimed his innocence, pleaded for all the DNA evidence to be tested (though preliminary DNA testing pointed to his guilt), and developed a group of die-hard supporters who claimed Virginia would be executing an innocent man. It does indeed sound familiar.
Leading the charge was James McClosky of Centurion Ministeries, a faith-based (and darn effective) innocence project. Time Magazine put Roger Coleman on the cover of its May 18, 1992 issue. Governor Douglas Wilder publicly maintained his confidence in Coleman's guilt, but privately fretted over the implications (political and otherwise, I presume) of executing an innocent man. The execution went forward, and Centurion Ministries (along with four newspapers) sought to have the DNA tested, though Coleman had already been fried. The courts turned them down, but Governor Wilder's successor, Mark Warner, ordered the DNA be tested.
The DNA test results proved conclusively that Roger Coleman viciously raped and murdered his sister-in-law.
As part of my research on the Coleman case, I watched a video of James McClosky taking the telephone call in which he was to learn of the final DNA results. I watched him assimilate the information as it came in. I watched him hang up the phone, then explain to the others into the room, and to everyone watching on video (then and forever into the future) that Roger was guilty and that he (James McClosky) had been deceived. I remember him (possibly incorrectly I realize) slowly shaking his head, and perhaps saying quietly "I can't believe it," though obviously he did. I remember him accepting he was wrong.
I found myself being tremendously impressed by James McClosky. He had poured his heart and soul into the case. He had fought valiantly for years to defend a man he did not realize was unworthy of his trust. When the definitive results came in, he accepted that he was wrong, in person, in real time, in front of the camera. He had been used and his reputation had been tarnished, and he took it like a man.
To this day, I hold Jim McClosky in high regard. I think, though, he allowed himself to be unduly biased by Roger Coleman's born-again behavior while in prison. I think also he was encouraged by his own ability to poke holes in Virginia's lame-brain story of what happened on the night of the murder, and by the less-than-stellar behavior of the prosecution during trial. None of this, however, was evidence of Coleman's innocence.
McClosky did build a timeline which he claimed proved Coleman to be innocent, or very nearly proved so. I built my own timeline, which told me a different story. I think McClosky's bias got in the way of building a cold-hearted, objective timeline.
Before I declared Hank Skinner to be FACTUALLY EXONERATED!, you can bet your bottom bippy I thought about the Roger Coleman case. No one wants to be proven wrong, and no one wants to be made the fool. Certainly I was opening myself up to a Jim McClosky type situation, and if it ever comes to that, I hope I will accept my error to a standard set by James McClosky. And for what it's worth, my situation might seem even more tenuous given that I don't accept Hank's too-intoxicated-to-murder defense as compelling. (I leave open the possibility that Hank consumed at least some of the alcohol and/or codeine after the murder.)
There are a couple bits of evidence that I believe prove someone else was in the house that night. The most obvious of these is the bloody boot print, size 12. Hank's shoe size is 9 and a half. Elwin was wearing no shoes. No boots matching the print were anywhere to be found.
The second most obvious to me is the hand print found on the plastic bag containing the bloody knife and a bloody towel. The hand print did not belong to Hank Skinner.
The piece of evidence that caused me to declare Hank Skinner to be factually exonerated (and not simply factually innocent) was the hair clutched in Twila's hand. Before the post-conviction testing of that hair, DA John Mann declared it to have come from the head of the killer. After the testing, Mann suppressed the results and lied about them. Only after he left office, only after the execrable Rick Roach took over, did the the test results become public. Those results showed that the hair clutched in Twila Busby's dead hand came from someone other than Hank Skinner or Twila Busby herself.
What might the DNA test results show us? The rape kit might prove the presence of seminal fluids. If such fluids belonged to Hank Skinner, defenders would say "So what?" If they belonged to someone other than Hank Skinner, prosecutors would say "It only proves motive." I don't think the rape kit would be compelling.
Tests on the bloody knife might show the blood came from Hank Skinner. That would pretty much be it for Hank. On the other hand, tests might show the blood came from someone other than Hank. That would be pretty much it for Texas. Testing of the blood on the knife could be conclusive.
Finally, testing of the broken fingernails might reveal the presence of Hank's blood or skin. If so, it would be curtains for Hank. I don't believe that is a likely scenario, however, since Hank (reportedly) had no scratches on him at the time of his arrest. If, on the other hand, the tests showed the presence of another person's blood or skin, then once again it would be all over for Texas. I don't think that even Texas would have the unmitigated gall to execute someone under those conditions.
After considering the Roger Coleman case, and considering the Hank Skinner case, I decided to be the first (and so far the only) person to declare Hank Skinner FACTUALLY EXONERATED! I did so because of the post-conviction DNA testing on that hair clutched in Twila's hand. Why conduct the testing if you are going to suppress, lie about, and then simply ignore the results if they come in contrary to your wishes and expectations?
I have grown weary of reading "I don't know if Hank Skinner is guilty or innocent, but ..." Twila Busby, in the final moments of her life, yanked a tell-tale hair from her killer. That was DA John Mann's position, and it seems right to me. The post-conviction DNA testing, which the State sponsored, has already proven that hair came from someone other than Hank Skinner. So why is Hank Skinner still in prison, much less on death row?
Can someone explain that to me?