J4H | Justice 4 Hank Skinner

Hank’s Case Today: The DNA Issue

During the year 2000, David Protess, professor of journalism at the Northwestern University of Illinois, and his students conducted two independent investigations on Hank’s case. The questions, evidence and witnesses brought up through those investigations raised elements that were not brought up at his trial or through any prior investigation. The district attorney, John Mann decided at that point and under the pressure of the media, to have the evidence tested. He announced through the local press “I’m going to test it all and see if I can’t put a few more nails in that man’s (ie. Hank’s) coffin”. Mann arranged for the test without any Court oversight or agreed-upon protocol despite the repeated requests and protests from Hank’s attorney, Doug Robinson.

(Excerpt from the Death Row Stories Season 3)

At the end of the year 2000, Mann triumphantly told the press that the lab had reported to him that its DNA tests showed that Hank was the source of hairs found clutched in Twila’s right hand and blood found on one of those hairs. Mann declared these results to be “end of story”.

However, Mann’s reports to the press turned out to be false. After he left office, he could no longer control, or fabricate, public dissemination of information about the DNA. In February 2001, the lab submitted to the new district attorney, Richard Roach, written reports that it had prepared to Mann’s requests. Those reports state the following:

  • the blood found on the hair in Ms Busby’s hand was her own and not that of Mr. Skinner.
  • the mitochondrial DNA profile of the other hair found in Ms Busby’s hand was “inconclusive” but Mr. Skinner was “excluded as potential contributor” of either hair.

The lab reports were more consistent with Hank’s innocence than his guilt. Despite Mann’s claim that he would have ALL the evidence tested, very little has actually been tested so far or if it has, no reports have been published or handed to Hank’s attorneys.

In the year 2000, John Mann ran a 7 months long smear campaign against Hank from July to December with headlines in the Pampa and Amarillo newspapers such as “D.A. to test evidence – expects hairs ‘clutched’ in victim’s hand came from head of Skinner”; “DNA tests results due next month – D.A expects tests will show hair came from Skinner”; “DNA test results point to Skinner”; “D.A. receives lab results from previously untested evidence”; “Reactions mixed to Skinner DNA Tests”; “Release of DNA results upsets lawyer-The Washington attorney now criticizes the local D.A.’s release of DNA test results that indicate Skinner’s bloodstained hair (was) found in the murdered woman’s hand”; “Report reveals hair in victim’s hand belonged to Skinner, D.A. says – In all the sampling there has been no DNA from any third person”; “Mann: DNA tests target Skinner” and more, all in this vein.

One would have to wonder why John Mann would choose a private lab to do the testing at $8000-$12000 cost to county taxpayers when he could have gotten the state’s DPS lab to do it for free. The answer lies with GeneScreen’s MT DNA analyst William “Bill” Watson. Houston/Harris County Capital Crimes Division Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler had a fondness for Watson and used him in most of her death penalty prosecutions because Watson was well known for giving prosecutors the results they wanted. Just as panhandle pathologist Ralph Erdmann M.E. gave Lubbock D.A. Travis Ware “made to order” autopsy results, maybe Bill Watson gave John Mann “made to order DNA test results”? This could explain why the news stories quoted Mann as saying he “expects” certain results. Indeed, maybe the fix was in, Mann expected GeneScreen to deliver (pseudo) inculpatory test results against Hank? The truth is, none of the tested hairs ‘clutched’ in the victim’s hands belonged to Hank Skinner but instead to an unknown third party! Once the Court forced GeneScreen to turn over to the defense all hardcopy data related to their testing and once that data was examined by a competent, neutral analyst, GeneScreen’s “misinterpretations” became glaringly apparent. Based on this evidence, Hank’s attorneys have once again renewed their motion for discovery to DNA test the six items of evidence listed at the beginning of this section.

Beside the DNA issue, there are two forensic avenues which need to be explored urgently in order to scientifically assess Hank’s physical capabilities at the time of the crime. One is toxico-kinesiology to analyze the combination of alcohol and codeine in Hank’s blood in relation to how it affected his coordination and movements in order to establish a precise physical profile. The second is bio-mechanic to cross reference his recent (at the time of the crime) palmar injury, that drastically handicapped his right hand, in relation to the forensic findings on Twila’s strangulation which required equal strength in both hands as well as immense strength overall.

As it can be easily noted from the legal decisions in this case from February 2007 until July 2007, it is clear that the state of Texas is railroading this case at an increasingly fast pace. The following outline demonstrates, once again, why only a combination of excellent legal work and strong outside support will force the truth in the open and save Hank’s life:

Hank’s physical condition at the time of the crime and hours afterward demonstrate his allergic reaction to codeine combined with alcohol and left him near comatose, rendered him incapable of the dexterous and agile performance required to precisely club and stab the victims. Twila was hit 14 times in the head with an axe handle. Her sons were each stabbed in the heart area in tightly grouped patterns. The defense toxicologist, the FBI’s Dr William Lowry, has no doubt Hank was in no state to even stand unassisted, let alone to club and stab three people in a minute and a half. Notwithstanding the fact that Dr Lowry was not even told about Hank’s allergy to codeine which is well documented in his medical records since age 17. This failure by Hank’s trial counsel allowed the D.A. to argue at trial that instead Hank was a chronic drug user who had incredible tolerance that allowed him to commit the crimes despite his condition at that time. The truth lies is his allergy rendered Hank virtually inoperable. Dr Lowry has since the trial given an affidavit attesting to this medical fact.

Twila was strangled unconscious before she was murdered by hands so strong hat they left finger indentations in her skin and broke the bones in her neck. At the time of the crime Hank was recovering from a palmar injury to his right hand, which nearly severed his thumb. The wound had become infected and had to be operated on, resulting in a loss of 30 to 35% of muscle mass and a loss of 50% strength in that hand. At the time of the crime Hank could barely hold a hairbrush to groom himself. Hank is right-handed and likewise could not have wielded the knives or club-axe handle.

Despite the availability of genetic materials from the crime scene (nail clippings, rape kit, two knives, bloody kitchen towel and a man’s XLG 44-46 jacket found beside Twila’s body), none of these items were DNA tested prior to trial. In 2000 Illinois Professor David Protess conducted an extensive investigation into Hank’s case and uncovered evidence of Hank’s innocence.

Despite the promise made by the State of Texas to David Protess, Bryson Hull an Associated Press journalist and to Maureen Maher of CBS News to have all evidence DNA tested, until 2012, the motions filed to obtain those tests have been denied or ignored.

On of the purported murder weapons, one of the two knives found at the crime scene, was in a plastic trash bag containing a handprint, which does not belong to Hank.

Footwear impressions (large boot prints) found in the blood pooled around Twila’s head and leading out to the front door and across the porch were not investigated for origin. Hank wears a size 9-9 ½ and owned only tennis shoes and dress shoes. The night of the crime, Hank was only wearing socks. These boot prints are at least size 11-12.

Fresh blood drops take off the sidewalk by the front door of the house have been DNA tested and shown to belong to an unknown male individual.

The front storm glass showed a bloody palm print, which was preserved when the door was removed. The glass was covered with masking paper but while it was stored in the evidence vault at the county sheriff’s office, someone cut a square lap in the masking paper and used a razor blade to scrape the print off the glass.

Robert Donnell, Twila’s maternal uncle, had a history of violence and was seen stalking Twila at a neighbor’s New Year’s Eve party on the night of the crime.

Watch the interview of Sarah Mitchell who was present at the New Year’s Eve party

(Excerpt from Death Row Stories Season 3)

Donnell had twice raped Twila in recent past and was known to have a propensity for knives. Twila was found dead with her pants unzipped and her blouse was pulled up high on her chest. The medical examiner testified her private parts were reddened and chafed. When Twila left the party, Donnell followed five minutes later and was never called to account for his whereabouts at the time of the crime. After Donnell finally got home and when told of the deaths of his niece and great nephews the next day at 5:00am, he showed no reaction but took his truck into the front yard, pulled out the seats and interior, scrubbed it all out with a brush and hose, replaced the carpets, then repainted the exterior. Later, a neighborhood child identified Donnell’s truck as having been at the crime scene at the time of the crime but police never questioned Donnell. In 1997, he was killed in a drunken auto accident.

Hank deserves justice and justice demands the truth.

Official non-profit organization in support of Hank Skinner