One would imagine that, with such a vast body of evidence indicative of innocence, Hank’s defense attorney would have had no difficulty in impressing on the court a significant level of reasonable doubt. Sadly, this was not the case.
Hank’s principal defense attorney was the former prosecutor, Harold Comer. This was not the first time Hank had come into contact with Comer – in the past, as part of his legal work on behalf of others, Hank had challenged Comer’s irregular prosecution tactics. In Hank’s words:
“….I had beaten the local prosecutor [Comer] so many times, having learned his game. He would arrest one person who was a known criminal, then get another one he had arrested previously to ‘turn state’s evidence’ against the first one to get them convicted. He relentlessly played these poor idiots against each other….his philosophy was that he didn’t care whether they had actually committed the crimes with which he charged them; rather, he felt that since they were all criminals anyway, they all belonged behind bars for as long as he could get them there.”
Clearly, there was no love lost between the accused and his court appointed attorney, and this may go some way to explaining Comer’s extraordinary neglect in defending Hank; but it is by no means the only possible factor.
Harold Comer ended his term as a state prosecutor amidst a well-documented scandal involving the alleged embezzlement of state funds. On February 25th, 1992 he was found guilty of depositing $10,000 of drugs money seized by the State into his own private bank account. He succeeded in escaping a felony charge through a plea-bargain which entailed his repaying the $10,000 before his case came to court. He was given a one year probationary sentence and received a $1,000 fine. Since he was not prosecuted on a felony charge, he was not barred from practicing law and consequently owed his livelihood to the clemency of the State.
In less than two years, Comer found himself assigned to a murder case, and representing an old adversary – ostensibly seeking to defeat the objectives of the State to which he owed so much. It does not take a great deal of intuition to anticipate the quality of defense representation provided to Henry Watkins Skinner.
This level of quality was clear from the outset. Hank states that:
“…at my first meeting….I attempted to tell Comer that I knew I wasn’t the person who committed the crime. His response was that he knew I’d done it, but would ‘do his best for me anyway.”
Initially, Hank started out with a productive investigator, Mr. E. John Rosa, who discovered much that was helpful to his defense, but Comer soon fired him and hired Kirven Roper “a drunkard and used car dealer”….As an investigator, he couldn’t find water in the midst of a flood.” [quote – Hank Skinner.] Further investigation reveals that Comer had previously fired Roper from his job as DA investigator for gross negligence, incompetence and theft.
At trial Comer failed to highlight the fact that none of the alleged murder weapons were ever linked to Skinner, nor did he at any point raise the issue that one of those weapons [a knife] was found in a bag on which were bloody fingerprints proven to be other than Hank’s.
There was also valuable witness evidence available. Mr. Ronnie Campbell gave a statement that proved that there was another man in the house at the time of the murders. Ronnie was in the county jail at the time and phoned to speak to Hank. Scooter [Twila Busby’s eldest son] answered, and Ronnie heard a man’s voice in the background. It was not Hank’s.
After having described hearing the voices of Twila and an unidentified man in the background, Ronnie stated that he did not hear Hank’s voice in the background. On speaking to the frightened Scooter, he asked to speak to Twila but was told that she was speaking to “some guy.” Ronnie claimed that he heard Ms. Busby “screaming hysterically in the background.”
That Ronnie Campbell was a first hand witness to the attacks of Twila Busby and her sons seems clear. His statement at the time of the murders matched known evidence in the case and contained information that he could not have known unless he had made the call, and there was independent supporting testimony available in the form of Ronnie’s jailer who was willing to testify that Campbell had, indeed, reported the conversation to her shortly after it had taken place. The prison keeps a log of all phone calls, and Comer was supposed to subpoena the record for that night, but all he did was ask the sheriff to bring it with him when he came to testify. By that time, the log had mysteriously “disappeared.” Neither Ronnie Campbell nor his jailer were ever called to testify at trial.
All this was further compounded after the prosecution secured a misleading and false testimony from one of their key witnesses, Andrea Joyce Reed. Ms. Reed was the neighbor to whose house Hank stumbled after the attacks had taken place. She has recently signed a sworn affidavit in the presence of Susie Ferguson, a Notary Public for the State of Texas, which raises disturbing questions about the reliability of prosecutorial evidence presented before the jury who recommended death for Henry Watkins Skinner. The following extracts are quoted directly from this affidavit [text in parentheses added as summary paraphrasing]:
“On the night of the crime… when Mr. Skinner came to my home he did not force his way in… Mr. Skinner was unable to stand on his own and I had to practically carry him wherever he went within the house…”
“…After Mr. Skinner was arrested and I was taken to the police station… it became apparent to me that the officers thought I had some involvement in the crime itself. Several comments were made to me that I could be arrested and charged with being an accessory to capital murder after the fact, and for harboring a fugitive. Officers were constantly questioning me as I was giving my statement, which resulted in ameliorations of the facts of what actually occurred that night. Things were suggested to me and I complied, out of fear of arrest and the police taking my children away, which was mentioned several times…”
“…In my statement to the police I changed the facts by trying to distance myself from Mr. Skinner… I had no involvement in the crime nor did I try to hide Mr. Skinner from the police’s discovery, but I included statements to the effect that I had asked him to leave, didn’t want him in the house, didn’t let him in, and didn’t know how he got in. The facts of the matter are simply that I found him injured and unable to stand without support on my front porch. I took him into the house to try to help him… the police came…. [and] asked if he was there. I said he was…”
“While talking to Mr. Skinner… [while in her house] …he was nearly unconscious and incoherent most of that time. At trial, I testified that he wasn’t in such a bad condition, but the truth is that he was in very bad shape…”
“…At trial I stated that, in my opinion, he was capable of committing the crime with which he was charged. The truth is that, in my opinion and as a matter of fact, he was incapable of committing any physical act against any person. He could not even use the bathroom facilities on his own… I had to hold him up and help him.”
“…[When I] Decided to call Twila to come and take him home… he told me I couldn’t call her because he thought she was dead … He never told me he thought he had killed her. This is one of the ameliorations that resulted from pressures placed upon me by police and District Attorney’s office personnel. When I asked Mr. Skinner if he had done anything to Twila, he said he thought he had kicked her. Later, he said he thought he’d tripped over her.”
“When I arrived in Fort Worth prior to my testimony at trial, [I was] handed… a script… saying ‘Here’s your part. Stick to only what it says and everything will be O.K.’ The script contained the matters they wanted me to testify to and which I did testify to, but which were, for the most part, untrue, as I have described above…”
Andrea Reed made the above-sworn statement after suffering tormented remorse and in an attempt to reverse the harm done by her original false testimony.
Read more in the Jury Manipulation section