But could Hank Skinner have been the murderer?
Three hours after their initial search of the crime scene, the police traced Hank to his neighbor’s house and immediately arrested him. Hank states that he was taken to the police station, stripped and photographed. He was so ill from the alcohol and codeine coursing through his veins that he was quite unable to stand while his photograph was taken; indeed the police needed to hold him upright so the shots could be framed.
This offers some insight into the physical condition of Hank Skinner the night he was accused of a triple murder; but there is a large body of critical evidence which raises serious doubts as to whether he could be physically, let alone mentally, capable of committing the murders for which he now stands to lose his life.
After being photographed, Hank was taken to a hospital where blood samples were taken. The tests run on these samples provided startling results. They indicated a blood alcohol level, at the time of the murders, of 0.21%. The samples were taken six and a half hours after the alleged time of the murders and it was proven at trial that Hank could not have drunk at his neighbor’s house – she was a recovering alcoholic who allowed no alcohol on her premises under any circumstances. More significant than this, the blood tests later proved that the codeine level in Hank’s blood at the time of the murders was 0.44 gms per 100ml. All this points to much more than his merely being a little worse for wear from drugs and alcohol. Hank is severely allergic to codeine, a condition that has been reported in his medical reports since the age of 17 [he was 31 at the time of the murders.] This allergy induces lethargy, delirium and hallucination – it also makes Hank “deathly ill.”
William T. Lowry PhD, a forensic toxicologist, testified at trial that the synergistic [or combined accumulative] effect of that blood level of codeine and alcohol would have rendered Hank physically incapable of performing the murders.
Dr. Lowry stated that the alcohol alone “would cause mental confusion, disorientation, dizziness, disturbances of sensations….impaired balance, staggering….”. That level of codeine, on its own, would place a person in “a sedation state, codeine is a narcotic, it’s a sedative, makes one sleepy and all central nervous systems would have slowed down, everything would have been slow. So, normally a person would be in a pretty deep sleep.”
Dr. Lowry was able to confirm Howard Mitchell’s earlier testimony that, at 9:30 that evening [when he arrived to pick up Twila,] Hank would indeed have been “comatose” or “unconscious and not being able to be aroused by any external stimuli”.
At midnight, the doctor stated Hank would have been in a “stuporous state”. In this state “The majority of people would be asleep, but the stupor state may be awake or asleep.”
The doctor stated that pharmacologically and neurologically it was “highly improbable” that Hank could have inflicted the constituent injuries of the three murders. They “would have required considerable thought, considerable amount of energy and considerable coordination….. [the] individual in a stuporous state would be exerting primarily most of the energy trying to stand, or walk, much less trying to coordinate any instruments of – giving a lethal blow with that instrument.”
Additionally, in his testimony, Dr. Lowry states that the positioning of the handprints found around the crime scene, and attributed to Hank, would be consistent with someone stumbling around and suffering the effects of a stuporous state of intoxication. “…in a stuporous state, a person would require holding onto something to maintain an upright position; not all the time a person is successful and they will be in a prone position and they would require a little more…assistance grabbing onto things to get back into the upright position.”
Furthermore, he stated that it would be highly common for an individual in a stuporous state to accumulate the blood of other individuals lying in his path as he made his way. “in an environment as you described [the crime scene] it would require some maneuvering not to get the blood combined from one person to another, if a person was moving about. A person in a stuporous state is moving at…far more exaggerated, and variable directions.” Both these statements directly support Hank’s assertions that he accumulated the blood and left the handprints as he stumbled to escape the house.
However, it does not end there. In addition to the fact that Hank was pharmacologically incapacitated, there is further irrefutable evidence suggesting that Hank simply could not have been the attacker. Dr. Elizabeth Peacock, the state’s Medical Examiner testified that the blows to Twila’s head were of such force that they drove fragments of bone into the center of her brain. The bone in Twila’s skull was abnormally thick. “In some persons this condition makes the bone spongy and weaker; in others the bone grows more dense and impenetrable, much stronger than normal, as was the case with Twila. Dr Peacock testified that it would have taken a man of immense strength and dexterity to wield the club with enough force to effect the damage done.
Additionally, the Medical Examiner found evidence that she had been strangled prior to death with hands powerful enough to leave permanent indentations in her flesh and to inflict bone fracture. Clearly, the murderer of Twila Busby was a man of immense manual strength. Hank Skinner, in contrast, was severely handicapped in his right hand. He had suffered this injury through an accident involving a shop saw. The accident stripped the flesh from a large area of the palm of his hand and, as a result, he had nerve damage and fifty percent tissue loss in that area. Hank is a slight man, 5′ 9″; 140#. With his injuries and handicapped hand he was not physically capable of committing the crime.
All this must surely cast considerable doubt over the prosecution’s assertions that Hank Skinner was the murderer. In his own words –
“The Medical Examiner demonstrated in open court the method used in strangling Twila. It was with both hands, palms down, thumbs interlocked, one over the other, fingers on the left and right sides of the neck. The classic ‘throttling position.’ There’s no way I could’ve done it.”
In summarizing, Hank puts it perfectly:
“The older boy, Scooter, was 22 years old, 6’6″ tall, weighing 265 pounds and in very good health. I’m a slight man, 5’9″ tall, weighing 140 pounds, at the time of the murders I had a blood alcohol content of .24 [.21] grams per liter, which is double drunk. Add to that .44 grams per 100ml of codeine and the synergistic effect of it combined with the alcohol. Add to that my allergy to codeine… Consider the force required to inflict these blows. The stab wound patterns on the boys were just a few inches apart, grouped tightly together. Think of the aim, control and dexterity required to effect such wounds on a person; two of whom were moving targets, I presume. Take all of this into consideration and then tell me I’m the one who killed those three people. Not only is it far fetched, it’s insane and impossible.”
Randy Busby’s Murderer – a question of height
Read more in the What Motive? section