Monday, March 15, 2010

Bloody Texas

While reviewing each of the 451 executions in Texas since 1976, I stumbled across some evidence I believe has substantial bearing on Hank Skinner’s case. It relates to the State’s position on the significance of a high blood alcohol level.

In the trial of Texas v. Granville Riddle, November 1989, the defense claimed self defense. Texas pointed out the victim had a blood alcohol level of 0.29 and was therefore incapable of mounting an attack. Granville Riddle was convicted and executed.

In the trial of Texas v. James Moreland, July 1983, the defense claimed self defense. Texas pointed out that one victim had a blood alcohol level of 0.24, the other had a blood alcohol level of 0.19, and that both must have been sleeping at the time they were killed. James Moreland was convicted and executed.

In the trial of Texas v. Hank Skinner, March 1995, the defense introduced evidence that Hank Skinner had a blood alcohol content of 0.24 plus a codeine level three times the normal medicinal value. They argued further that the alcohol and codeine were synergistic, their combined effect being worse than the sum of their individual effects. The defense then argued, just as Texas had three times earlier, that such a high blood alcohol content would render a person incapable of aggressive action.

Texas did not dispute the toxicology evidence. Instead they simply pooh-poohed it. Skinner was a heavy drinker they claimed (supposedly unlike the three people just mentioned with similar alcohol levels) and was therefore insensitive to alcohol. Hank Skinner was convicted and will soon be executed.

This seems to be just more evidence that Texas does not really care if Hank Skinner is factually innocent. They did a 180 on the significance of a 0.24 blood alcohol level, with nothing more than the flick of a wrist. Though they acknowledge that the hand print on the trash bag, the one holding the bloody knife and dish towel, was not left there by Skinner, they refuse to run that print through their fingerprint data base. It would take but a few minutes, but still they refuse.

They lied about and then ignored the post-conviction DNA test results they requested. They treat as insignificant the hair found clutched in Twila Busby’s dead hand, a hair they themselves claimed came from the killer, a hair now proven not to have come from Hank Skinner.

They hide the DNA results from the rape kit and broken fingernail clippings they sent out for testing.

They refuse to release the murder weapons for DNA testing, even though others have volunteered to cover the cost.

They refuse to release the foreign windbreaker for DNA testing, though it is a gold mine of hairs, blood, and sweat samples.

The State of Texas will probably execute Hank Skinner as scheduled, but Hank Skinner will not go away. He will join the growing list of people probably innocent but certainly executed by Texas. Texas and Governor Rick Perry will execute him despite the many cogent cautions they have been given. 

It will be a dark day indeed for Texas.

I do not think Hank Skinner's execution will prevent Rick Perry from being re-elected governor. I do predict, however, that it will thwart him during the next logical step of his political career.

In Search of the 54: Part II

It's been a few days since my claim that I was going to review all 450 Texas executions since 1976 in search of others who might have been factually innocent.  Plenty to report on that issue, and I'll do that before too long. Right now I would like to mention something I found in one particular case.

The case is Texas vs. Granville Riddle. Riddle was convicted of murdering Ronnie Bennett by bludgeoning him with a tire iron. During the trial, Riddle claimed that Bennett made homosexual advances towards him, so he hit Bennett in the knee with the tire iron to ward off the advances. Because Bennett persisted, Riddle hit him in the head with the tire iron, and thereby unintentionally killed him.

Because of details I haven't included here, I consider this case a slam dunk for Texas. On my 0  to 10 scale of being worthy for further review, I scored this one a zero. What I found worth mentioning here was the manner in which Texas refuted Riddle's claim that he acted in self-defense. The State of Texas pointed out that the victim had a blood alcohol level of 0.29, and argued that level would have rendered him unconscious.

Seems reasonable to me.

The Granville Riddle trial was in 1989. In 1995 the State of Texas argued that the 5'9" Hank Skinner was capable of killing Twila Busby and her two hulking sons despite having a blood alcohol level of 0.24. I realize that 0.24 is less than 0.29, but Hank's condition was further aggravated by a triple load of codeine. The state did not dispute the toxicology, they merely claimed that Hank was insensitive to alcohol.

Seems unreasonable.

If Ronnie Bennett had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 coupled with a triple codeine level, I have little doubt Texas would still have argued Bennett was unconscious and incapable of any aggressive action. And had Hank Skinner's blood alcohol level been 0.29 unaggravated by any codeine, I have little doubt they would still have argued he was unimpeded by alcohol as he killed the three people.

In Texas, the significance of any particular blood alcohol level is variable, depending on whether it helps or hinders obtaining a conviction in a capital murder case. 


I've run across a second case of interest: Texas v. James Moreland.  Moreland was convicted of stabbing two men to death, the first because of amorous advances which seemed to be leading homosexual rape, and the second  because the guy startled him. Texas rebutted Moreland's defense by pointing out that the first guy had a blood alcohol content of 0.19 and the second had a blood alcohol content of 0.24. The medical examiner testified that testing indicated both victims had stopped drinking and had probably fallen asleep from 1½ to 2½ hours before their deaths.

Now we have a case where we have one blood alcohol level equal to that of Hank Skinner, and a second less than that of Hank Skinner, and we have Texas arguing that this was sufficient to cause loss of consciousness.  Also, neither of these two men carried a triple load of codeine in their blood to boot.

Clearly if Hank Skinner had been murdered by (for example only) Robert Donnell, and Donnell had claimed self defense, Texas would have argued that Skinner could not possibly have attacked anyone, since his 0.24 blood alcohol level would have rendered him unconscious.

This is getting ridiculous. 

The series continues here.