Key evidence lost in Hank Skinner case

Key evidence is lost in the case of Hank Skinner so despite the fact that the state of Texas now backs further DNA testing, we still will not get all the answers we need.

There are pictures of the jackets (see here) but the big blood- and sweat-stained tan jacket with snap buttons down the front found near the body of Skinner’s girlfriend Twila Busby is gone. The Austin Chronicle justifiably questions how it is possible to loose a men’s jacket and to not loose something as small as finger nail clippings. But that might actually make sense. Since clippings are small to begin with technicians may have been extra careful with them from the start. Something as big as a jacket might have been handled less carefully. This is of course, not an excuse but maybe just what happened.

Mr. Skinner has asked for DNA testing of seven items:

(1) vaginal swabs taken from Twila Busby at the time of her autopsy;
(2) Twila Busby’s fingernail clippings;
(3) a knife found on the front porch of the Busby house;
(4) a knife found in a plastic bag in the living room of that house;
(5) a dishtowel also found in that bag;
(6) a windbreaker jacket found in the living room next to Ms. Busby’s body; and
(7) any hairs found in Ms. Busby’s hands that have not been destroyed by previous testing

Why should we test these items?

Testing the vaginal swabs could yield important results because when Ms. Busby’s body was found, her shirt was pulled up and her pants unzipped. The medical examiner found erythema, or reddening of the skin, around her vaginal area, indicating recent sexual activity. The identity of the person with whom she had sex shortly before her murder could shed important light on who attacked her. The failure of the State to test these swabs is inexplicable.The same is true of Ms. Busby’s fingernail clippings. It is reasonable to believe, based on the nature of her injuries, that Ms. Busby struggled with her attacker. That being the case, it is highly likely that her fingernail clippings could yield the presence of the assailant’s DNA. Similarly, the medical examiner acknowledged that the hairs found in Ms. Busby’s right hand could have come from her murderer.

The knives, either of which could have been used to kill Ms. Busby’s two sons, could likewise yield the DNA of the person who used them. In addition, the absence of Mr. Skinner’s blood on those knives would disprove the prosecution’s theory that the profusely bleeding cut in the palm of Mr. Skinner’s hand was self-inflicted when the knife he used to kill Randy Busby first struck Busby’s shoulder blade, causing Mr. Skinner’s hand to slide down the blade. Eliminating that inference would prove that Mr. Skinner’s injury was a defensive wound, consistent with his claim of innocence.The bloody dish towel could have been used by the killer to wipe blood from his hands.

Finally, the ownership and presence of the windbreaker jacket found next to Ms. Busby’s body has never been explained. It is similar to one that Mrs. Debra Ellis testified she often saw Donnell wearing. It was Donnell’s size, and it contained hairs and sweat stains that, if tested, could identify its owner.

A joint motion was filed June 12 that includes details of how the evidence testing should proceed; all evidence is to be transported to the Texas Department of Public Safety lab in Lubbock, where it will be inspected by lawyers for both parties before any testing begins. Any unknown DNA profile found as a result of the testing will be run through state and national databases, if possible, and followed by the issuance of a report by DPS documenting the test results and DNA comparisons. Forty-five days after all of the data has been reported to the parties a hearing on the matter will be held in Gray County. The motion can be found here.

To be continued!

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  1. […] doubt that Skinner is wrongfully convicted in this case. The state announced in 2012 that a crucial piece of evidence is lost. There are still unanalyzed crime scene objects in this case as well as […]