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DA Watch: Death Row’s Henry Skinner sues Fed Prosecutor Lynn Switzer for Withholding DNA Evidence He Says Clears Him

The United States Supreme Court is already considering Henry Skinner’s petition for certiorari (09-7784), which he filed after his 1999 petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Amarillo federal district court (Skinner v. Quartman) was denied, and after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals initially granted him a certificate of appealability on two issues relating to his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in the guilt phase of his trial.  The 5th Circuit thereafter changed its mind, affirming the lower court’s decision  – which promptly set Skinner’s execution date for Feb. 24, 2010. 

But Skinner isn’t stopping with an appellate fight that he didn’t have adequate defense counsel — this Death Row inmate, represented by lead counsel Robert Owen of the UT School of Law Capital Punishment Center, is also challenging the prosecutor’s work during trial.

That’s right: the Death Row inmate is suing the prosecutor who tried his capital murder case. 

Henry Skinner is alleging that federal prosecutor Lynn Switzer has — right now — DNA evidence that could prove his innocence, and is refusing to release it.  Refusing, even though he’s set to die within 90 days.

According to Skinner (from his federal complaint)

“On October 20,2009, without giving Plaintiff’s attorneys any notice or an opportunity to be heard, the 31st District Court entered an order directing that Plaintiff be executed by intravenous injection ‘at any time after the hour of 6:00 p.m. on the 24th day of February, 2010 …. Defendant’s refusal to release the biological evidence for testing violates Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff requests of this Court an order declaring that Defendant’s continued withholding of the evidence violates Plaintiffs constitutional rights and requiring that Defendant release the evidence to Plaintiff under a reasonable protocol regarding chain of custody and preservation of the evidence, in order that Plaintiff can have the evidence tested at his own expense.”

Henry Skinner is scheduled to die in a matter of weeks, and he has to have some comfort in the dogged efforts that his appellate lawyers are undertaking on his behalf.  Harvard Law graduate and UT Law Professor Bob Owen and his team at the UT’s Capital Punishment Clinic are working hard here — one can only hope their efforts will not be in vain.


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