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25 Marzo 2010 | STATI UNITI


La Corte Suprema sospende l'esecuzione di Hank Skinner poco prima dell'ora fissata dopo appello per test DNA

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Texas execution halted over DNA

The US Supreme Court halted the execution of a Texas man less than an hour before he was due to die, after an appeal for new DNA tests.

Henry 'Hank' Skinner, 47, had been scheduled to die today for the 1993 murders of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in the north Texas town of Pampa.

Hank Skinner accepts he was in the house where the murders happened, but he insists that DNA testing could exonerate him.

Skinner, scheduled to die in Huntsville prison, Texas, for the New Year’s Eve killings, was visited by his French-born wife as he waited for the US Supreme Court or Texas Governor Rick Perry to decide whether to stop his execution.

His attorneys say his lethal injection should be halted for DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene in the Texas town of Pampa. Results of those tests could support his claims of innocence, they said.

“It’s real scary,” Skinner, 47, said recently from death row. “I’ve had dreams about being injected. I didn’t commit this crime and I should be exonerated.”

The former oil field and construction worker said a combination of vodka and codeine left him incapacitated and he had neither the mental capacity nor physical strength to kill his girlfriend, Twila Jean Busby, 40, and her two adult sons, Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20.

Prosecutors say Skinner is not entitled to testing of evidence that was not tested before his 1995 trial. Courts over the years since his conviction have rejected similar appeals.

Texas is the most active US state for capital punishment, executing 24 prisoners last year. Skinner’s would be the fifth so far this year.

Criticism escalated in the past year amid questions about evidence that led to the 2004 execution of convicted arson-murderer Cameron Todd Willingham.

Prosecutors insist evidence in that case was solid, but an arson expert concluded the investigation was so flawed its finding the fire was set deliberately could not be supported.

Among evidence presented to jurors in Skinner’s case was the blood from two victims on his clothing. His bloody handprints also were found in the bedroom of Ms Busby’s sons and on a door leading out of the back of the house. Prosecutors also suggested Skinner, who had a serious hand wound, cut his hand when a knife slipped during one of the murders. Skinner said he cut it on broken glass.

Police were summoned when the wounded Mr Caler appeared on the front porch of a neighbour’s home. The bodies of his mother and half brother were discovered in their home. Officers followed a blood trail four blocks to the trailer home of a female friend of Skinner. He was found in a closet.

Skinner and his lawyers said the actual killer could have been Ms Busby’s uncle, Robert Donnell, who died in 1997. Donnell, described in court documents as a “hot-tempered ex-con” known for getting more violent when he drank, attended the same New Year’s Eve party.

At the Supreme Court, Skinner’s lawyers argued there were “troubling, unresolved questions about whether Mr Skinner could have committed the murders”.

On Tuesday, Skinner spent several hours with Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner, a 49-year-old French campaigner against the death penalty who married him in 2008. Her visits this week were the first for months because she was banned for prison rules infractions, Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said.

Skinner’s lawyers wanted DNA testing on vaginal swabs taken from Ms Busby at the time of her autopsy, fingernail clippings, a knife found on the porch of the house and a second knife found in a plastic bag in the house, a towel with the second knife, a jacket next to Ms Busby’s body and any hairs found in her hands that were not destroyed in previous testing.

His trial lawyer, Harold Comer, said he did not have them tested at the time because he feared the results would be even more incriminating.

Lynn Switzer, the Gray County district attorney whose office prosecuted Skinner, has declined to speak about the case because she is the defendant in Skinner’s court claims. The trial prosecutor, John Mann, has since died.




NEW YORK, 24 MAR - La Corte Suprema degli Stati Uniti ha sospeso l'esecuzione di un condannato a morte texano, Hank Skinner, un'ora prima dell'ora prevista per l'iniezione letale, in attesa di una decisione su un esame del Dna che potrebbe scagionarlo.

Skinner, 47 anni, sposato a una attivista francese anti-pena di morte doveva essere messo a morte poco prima della mezzanotte italiana nel carcere texano di Huntsville per l'omicidio di tre persone.

L'uomo sostiene di essere innocente e ha chiesto un esame del Dna, sostenendo che potrebbe scagionarlo in maniera definitiva.

Siccome e' stato condannato da una giuria il Texas gli ha rifiutato l'esame, anche a spese sue. Ora la Corte Suprema dovra' decidere sul merito



PENA DE MUERTE El Supremo de EE.UU. suspende la ejecución de un convicto en Texas

 Washington, 24 mar .- El Tribunal Supremo de Estados Unidos suspendió hoy la ejecución en Texas de un hombre condenado a muerte por el asesinato de tres personas en 1993, confirmaron fuentes del penal de Huntsville.

"La ejecución con una inyección letal de Hank Skinner ha sido cancelada de forma indefinida", señaló a Efe un portavoz del penal.

La decisión fue tomada después de que el lunes la Junta de Perdón y Libertad bajo Palabra del estado rechazara de forma unánime una solicitud de clemencia.

Los abogados del condenado habían pedido más tiempo para analizar pruebas de ADN que, según dijeron, podían absolver a su cliente de los crímenes por los que había sido declarado culpable.

Skinner, de 41 años, fue declarado culpable de matar a golpes a su novia, Twila Busby, y de dar muerte a puñaladas a los dos hijos de la mujer.

Aunque ha reconocido que se encontraba en el lugar cuando ocurrieron los asesinatos, Skinner siempre ha insistido en que no pudo haber sido su autor porque en el momento estaba inconsciente debido al consumo combinado de vodka y codeína.

"Yo no cometí esos crímenes y debería ser exonerado", señaló recientemente.

Su ejecución debía ser la quinta este año en Texas, el estado más activo en la aplicación del castigo.

Desde que el Supremo reimplantó la pena de muerte en 1976 han sido ejecutados 1.199 convictos en Estados Unidos.

Más de un tercio de esas ejecuciones se han realizado en Texas, según datos del Centro de Información de la Pena de Muerte



High court gives last-minute stay to condemned
Documents filed with the Supreme Court cited "untested physical evidence"in the case of Henry "Hank" Skinner

U.S. Supreme Court issues stay of execution for Henry "Hank" Skinner

Skinner, 47, was to be executed by lethal injection Wednesday

He was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and her two sons in 1993 in Pampa, Texas Skinner's attorneys say DNA testing of the evidence could establish hisinnocence

Washington  -- The Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of execution late Wednesday for a condemned Texas inmate who is requesting DNA testing of evidence in his case.

The order was handed down less than an hour before Henry "Hank" Skinner, 47, was scheduled to be executed by injection for the New Year's Eve 1993 killings of his live-in girlfriend and her two sons.

The Supreme Court granted the temporary stay while it considers whether to take up Skinner's broader appeal. It was not immediately clear when the court might consider the case, but there was no indication a decision would be made before Thursday.

Skinner's attorneys maintain that DNA testing of the evidence couldestablish his innocence and determine the real killer.

"This action suggests that the court believes there are important issues that require closer examination," defense attorney Robert Owen said of the temporary stay. "We remain hopeful that the court will agree to hear Mr. Skinner's case and ultimately allow him the chance to prove his innocence through DNA testing."

Skinner heard the news while he was eating what was to be his last meal, according to Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

He expressed relief and surprise, saying, "I had made up my mind I was going to die" and "I feel like I really won today," according to Lyons.

Skinner said he is "eager to get the DNA testing so I can prove my innocence and get the hell out of here," according to Lyons.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has received more than 8,000 letters from Skinner's advocates urging a stay, according to the Innocence Project and Change.org, whose members and supporters have sent the letters through their Web sites.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Rep. Elliott Naishtat were among those who have called for a reprieve.

"It has come to my attention that there are numerous problems with Mr.Skinner's case that raise serious questions regarding the fairness of his trial and whether or not he is guilty," Ellis wrote in a letter to Perry on Tuesday.

Word about the case has spread as far as France, where demonstrations were planned Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy in Paris by supporters of Skinner's French wife, Sandrine Ageorges.

Since Skinner's conviction in 1995, he "has tirelessly pursued access to the untested physical evidence," according to court documents filed with the Supreme Court in February.

That evidence includes vaginal swabs and fingernail clippings from Skinner's then-girlfriend Twila Busby, hairs found in her hand and two knives found at the scene, along with a dish towel and a windbreaker jacket, according to the filing.

Skinner has never denied being in the home when Busby and her sons -- Elwin Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20, -- were killed. However, he maintains he was incapacitated because of the "extreme quantities of alcohol and codeine" that he had consumed earlier that evening, according to the documents.

Prosecutors maintain forensic evidence gathered at the scene and witness statements point to Skinner. A female friend of Skinner's who lived four blocks away testified at Skinner's trial that he walked to her trailer and told her that he may have kicked Twila Busby to death, although evidence did not show she had been kicked. The neighbor has since recanted parts of her testimony.

Authorities followed a blood trail from the crime scene to the female friend's trailer and found Skinner in the closet, authorities said. He was "wearing heavily blood-stained jeans and socks and bearing a gash on the palm of his right hand," according to the Texas attorney general's summary of the case.

In addition, authorities said cuts on Skinner's hand came from the knife used to stab the men. Skinner said he cut it on glass. Some DNA testing was done, which implicated Skinner, but not on the items he now wants tested.

"DNA testing showed that blood on the shirt Skinner was wearing at the time of his arrest was Twila's blood, and blood on Skinner's jeans was a mixture of blood from Elwin and Twila," authorities said.

However, Owen wrote in the Supreme Court filing, "the victims' injuries show that whoever murdered them must have possessed considerable strength, balance and coordination."

Twila Busby was strangled so forcefully that her larynx and the hyoid bone in her throat were broken. She then was struck with an axe or pick handle 14 times, hard enough to drive fragments of her "unusually thick skull"
into her brain, the court documents said.

"While attacking Ms. Busby, the perpetrator had to contend with the presence of her 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound son, Elwin Caler, who blood spatter analysis showed was in the immediate vicinity of his mother as she was being beaten," the court filing said.

"Somehow, the murderer was able to change weapons and stab Caler several times before he could fend off the attack or flee." Randy Busby was then stabbed to death in the bedroom the two brothers shared, the documents said.

Evidence presented at trial suggested that Twila Busby's uncle, Robert Donnell -- who is now dead -- could have been the killer. At a New Year's Eve party she attended for a short time on the last night of her life, Donnell stalked her, making crude sexual remarks, according to trial testimony. A friend who drove her home from the party testified she was "fidgety and worried" and that Donnell was no longer at the party when he returned.

"The defense presented evidence that Donnell was a hot-tempered ex-con who had sexually molested a girl, grabbed a pregnant woman by the throat and kept a knife in his car," according to Owen's letter to Perry.

An expert testified at trial that Skinner would have been too intoxicated to commit the crimes, and a review of the evidence suggests that Skinner might have been even more intoxicated than initially thought, Owen writes.

Media outlets in Texas have been supportive of a reprieve for Skinner.

"Before sending a man to die, we need to be absolutely sure of his guilt," the Houston Chronicle wrote in an editorial Friday.

Skinner's wife, Ageorges, told Radio France Internationale in a Tuesday interview that she began writing to Skinner in 1996 and they began visiting in 2000.

"They just need to do DNA and fingerprint comparison with that other suspect that was never investigated," she said in an audio clip of the interview posted on RFI's Web site. She does not name Donnell, but said the person died in a car accident in 1997.

Recently, questions have swirled in Texas regarding the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for a fire that killed his three daughters.

On March 19, Perry issued a posthumous pardon to the family of Timothy Cole, who was serving a 25-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when he died in prison from an asthma attack. After his death, DNA testsestablished his innocence, and another man confessed to the crime.

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