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Texas Prosecutors Come Under Increased Scrunity in Texas: Hank Skinner Stay Within Weeks of Michael Morton Release

Hank Skinner is still alive today thanks to a last minute stay granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – and it’s still open for debate whether or not his requests will be granted for DNA evidence to be tested. (For details on Hank Skinner’s case, check out our earlier posts here and here.)

Read the November 7, 2011 Order and Opinion of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the Hank Skinner case online here.

However, as Hank Skinner’s story continues to be followed by the international media there is a new slant on the story that is gaining lots of ground:  the actions and attitudes of the Texas prosecutors in the Hank Skinner case.

This is especially interesting, given the recent reporting on prosecutorial misconduct in the Michael Morton case. It was only a few weeks ago that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued its opinion in Morton’s case, freeing Michael Morton as an innocent man wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder after serving many, many years on Texas Death Row.

DNA evidence freed Morton — evidence that the Texas prosecutors in that case didn’t want to pursue, didn’t want to use, didn’t want to be considered on appeal. Hank Skinner is fighting a similar fight to Morton’s quest for justice; Skinner’s case, however, appears to be even stronger in its own way than Morton’s arguments.

That’s because in Hank Skinner’s case, a Texas prosecutor (Gray County District Attorney John Mann) did have crime scene evidence tested for DNA only to find that:

  • Hank Skinner was at the crime scene (Skinner doesn’t dispute he was there, just that he was too intoxicated to do anything)
  • Hair from an unknown person was found in one victim’s hand (DNA shows it’s not Hank Skinner’s hair)
  • Blood on a cassette recorder at the scene is from an unknown person (not the victims nor Hank Skinner)
  • Blood on gauze found on the sidewalk in a blood trail, also from an unknown person (not the victims nor Hank Skinner)

After the Gray County District Attorney got this DNA evidence back from his crime lab, what did he do?  He stopped testing evidence.  That’s right.

Which means the Texas prosecutor did not test:

  • two knives found at the scene with blood on them, known to have been used in the murders
  • vaginal swabs taken from one victim, found with her pants halfway off her body
  • a windbreaker found at the crime scene within 24 inches of a victim’s body, covered in blood and sweat – a jacket known to be similar to one worn by this victim’s uncle — who had been stalking her shortly before the murders

It gets worse.  After that District Attorney lost re-election, the new District Attorney reviewed the crime reports on the DNA tests that had been done and told Skinner’s attorneys about them — but coupled that with his position that there would be no more DNA testing without the court forcing the prosecution to do so.

That’s right:  he knew about the windbreaker, the knives, and the swab — and he refused to test them.

So what’s with the prosecutors in the State of Texas?

Why would a Texas district attorney do this, aren’t they supposed to be representing the State of Texas in the pursuit of justice?  Good question.

Right now, we’ve got law school professors giving their opinions on why these prosecutors would do stuff like this to CNN and we’ve got leaders of the Innocence Project giving their take on things in the media, like Chicago’s David Protess at the Huffington Post.

Lots of talk and discussion over something that doesn’t seem that hard to see:  Texas prosecutors look to be more interested in victory in the courtroom than in justice being served.  Not big news to criminal defense bar in Texas, but it seems to be shocking to most of the American Public.

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