Texas death row prisoner ‘optimistic’ after 27 years

Hank Skinner, who has been on death row in Texas for nearly three decades, says he still remains hopeful.

“I am optimistic I won’t end up here. I should have never been here to start with. And it’s been a long journey,” he told AFP during an interview.

Incarcerated in Livingston, a town some 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Houston, Skinner has always maintained his innocence.

He spoke to AFP via telephone from behind a glass window at the Allan B. Polunsky prison, wearing a white prisoner’s uniform.

In 1995, Skinner was sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her two adult adult sons in Pampa, a small town in the Texas panhandle.

He did not deny having been in the house where the three died, but said he had passed out from a combination of drugs and liquor. Skinner was found in a nearby house with blood spatter on his clothing, but insists that DNA testing proves his innocence.

The father of three, who recently turned 60 and has a salt-and-pepper beard, Skinner has now been waiting for more than three years for a decision from the state’s highest criminal court.

The Texas Court of Appeals will weigh in on whether it believes the jury that sentenced him would have made a different choice had it had access to DNA tests that are available today.

On five different occasions Skinner’s execution date was set.

In March 2010, the US Supreme Court spared him 23 minutes before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection, just after he had his last meal.

It was one of his lawyers who told him the good news.

“I dropped the phone and I just slid down the wall. And I didn’t realize it but I had tears running out of both eyes,” he said.

“I felt like somebody had picked up a 1,000-pound weight off of my chest. I felt so light. I thought I was gonna float away.”

Once the euphoria and shock wore off, he suffered a terrible low as he came to terms with the fact that he would have to return to death row and “all the suffering here.”

Seeing fellow prisoners die, he said, is harder than being locked up in a small cell 23 hours a day, without television or physical contact with others except when guards handcuff or uncuff him.

Living in the detention center means Skinner’s days are filled with noise, day and night.

“You have some people here who are mentally disturbed. They beat on the walls, they kick the doors, they scream and holler to the top of their lungs,” he said.

Others shout conversations with imaginary people. Still others engage in real dialogue, but noisily.

“It’s cacophonous all the time. But you learn to just tune it out,” Skinner said.

Because breakfast is served at approximately 3:00 am, he says it is difficult to maintain any sort of life rhythm.

He sleeps when he collapses from fatigue and takes advantage of the quieter periods of night to read, often perusing other convicts’ files.

Having worked for a criminal defense lawyer before his conviction, he is happy to share his expertise with them.

Read the complete AFP article here