Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hank Skinner and Codeine

The nearly 844 pages of the Hank Skinner's post-conviction evidentiary hearing is chock full of interesting tidbits. I'll mention a few of them here, and save others for later.

(Translation: I haven't posted in a couple days because I'm trying to finish the second book. I need a quick post to tide me over until I put up the second part of my response to Lynn Switzer's position paper explaining why she refuses to release the DNA. Her position is presented here. The first part of my response is here. The next part of my response is still rattling around in my head.)


Hank Skinner never confessed to killing Twila, Elwin, or Randy. I'm not saying he never confessed publicly. We all know that. I'm talking about behind the scenes, when alone with his attorney. Even when things were at their bleakest and Hank was at his weakest, he maintained his innocence. I take you now to where his court-appointed trial attorney, Harold "Fiscal Foibles" Comer was being questioned by his appellate attorney about that very issue:
Q Mr. Comer, did Mr. Skinner at all times while you represented him maintain his innocence?
A Yes, he did. He did maintain his innocence.
Q And did he maintain his innocence with you, and I'm asking about in confidential communications did he ever indicate to you that he was guilty of the crimes?
A No, he didn't.
Remember this brief testimonial exchange when Comer and others leave the impression they have some inside knowledge of Hank Skinner's guilt or innocence, that there is some deep, dark secret out there they can't share with us because of attorney/client privilege.


This one has to do with Hank's ingestion of codeine that night. Hank has given various accounts of how he might have ingested it, but I've come to believe that Hank has little clear recall of the events that evening. That was, after all, his defense: he was unconscious / stuperous / incapacitated / delirious due to a potentially fatal level of alcohol and codeine in his blood. The lab tests back up the very high levels of those substances.

With that in mind, consider the following testimony, again taken from the questioning of Harold "Ed Woods" Comer. This was his response to a question about whether he read a letter Hank sent to him about being allergic to codeine. There will be a pop quiz at the end, so read the rambling response carefully. There is significant content buried within.
Well, as you say, he's a prolific letter writer, and when I say I didn't read them all, I would read over them or give them what attention I could with the time that I had, but I found that Mr. Skinner's letters would have a multitude of irrelevant or insignificant matters, but then he might have a gem right in the middle such as maybe perhaps this that I overlooked, because I don't recall, even though this letter is here, of having read it to the extent that it would cause me to think that it would be important to have Dr. Lowry or the toxicologist review the effects of an allergic reaction to Codeine, and I probably assumed, well, an allergic reaction, that could take many forms, unknown, and then the process was -- Let me answer your question. Number one, I may have not read it. Number two, if I did read it I wasn't sure that him having an allergic reaction would have anything significant to do with our defense of the case, so in either event I didn't -- as I recall, I didn't advise Dr. Lowry that he might be allergic to Codeine. I know on the first page it seems he wanted to attack the lab report because it said that he had Codeine and he said he didn't have Codeine, that he was allergic to Codeine, and of course, Codeine was -- an ingestion of Codeine that was shown by the state lab was part of -- a significant part of Dr. Lowry's opinion that that amount of Codeine, together with alcohol, could result and probably did result in Mr. Skinner not being able to have the physical coordination to commit the acts, so either I didn't read it or I read it and didn't give it any particular significance and I simply -- since I had, maybe not at that point (inaudible) and we had Dr. Lowry's testimony relating to Codeine ingestion would have caused him to not be able to participate in the crime.
Here's the quiz: What portion of that rambling response is exculpatory? In other words, what portion of that response supports Hank's claim of innocence? Take a moment. Take two if you wish.

Okay, here's my takeaway:
I know on the first page it seems he wanted to attack the lab report because it said that he had Codeine and he said he didn't have Codeine, that he was allergic to Codeine, ...
That's a big deal. Others have claimed (and I left open the possibility) that Hank ingested the codeine after killing Twila, Elwin, and Randy. He could have done that, so the theory goes, to make it seem as if he had been too incapacitated to have killed three people.  However ...

I no longer consider that a possibility. If Hank Skinner ingested codeine after the murders to provide himself a pharmaceutical alibi, he would not have been surprised to learn they found codeine in his blood, and he certainly would not have wanted his attorney to challenge the test.

Post Script:

This tiny exercise of finding a nugget of information in a single rambling paragraph, after being tipped off that something is there to be found, provides a small sense of what it's like to pour through hundreds of documents, some of them thousands of pages long, seeking nuggets of truth without knowing any are there to be found. I can't imagine how anyone would be interested in forensic data mining.