J4H | Justice 4 Hank Skinner

The Crime Scene

When the police arrived at the house where Scooter had stumbled, they soon ascertained where he lived and rushed over. When they arrived, they failed to treat the scene of the crime with the preservative care that is conventionally considered an essential requirement in any investigation. In Hank’s words,

“they trampled the crime scene badly.”

At pre-trial hearings it was revealed that, at one point, there had been as many as eighteen officers and one dog in the house at the same time.

The police found a bloody pick-axe handle near the couch and a blood-covered knife on the porch. There were numerous hand-prints around the house. Two (subsequently identified as Hank’s) were found, 24 inches (two feet) and 30 inches from the floor respectively, on the door to the bathroom/washer-dryer room. Leading out of the house, two hand-prints were found on and near the door leading from the kitchen to the utility room at the rear of the house; one was subsequently identified as belonging to Hank, the other was never identified, but was assumed to be his for the purposes of the trial. On the door leading outside, another print was found and identified as Hank’s.

Of course, at the initial stage of the investigation none of this evidence had been analyzed or identified. Yet, in the first few minutes after the bodies had been discovered, the police decided Hank was the murderer. From the affidavit – submitted by J. Wallace, Peace Officer – upon which the evidentiary warrant was granted [emphases – added] – “Sheriff Stubblefield knew that Henry Watkins “Hank” Skinner lived with Twila Busby at 801 East Campbell and Sheriff Stubblefield had a feeling that Skinner was involved.”

Local police authorities were known to be severely biased against Hank because of his previous work in civil rights, particularly aspects of that work in which Hank defended the rights of accused citizens, addressed authorities’ violations of citizens’ rights, as well as other illegal activities employed by those authorities.

Indeed, they were so intent in their determination to prove Hank to be the murderer that they sent a dog under the foundations of the house to search for him, should he be there; all this without a shred of evidence, at that time, linking him to the crime scene other than that they knew he lived there.

Medical & Forensic Opinion on the case against Hank Skinner

The search of the crime scene was carried out, without a warrant, for ten days – a fundamental abuse of constitutional rights. The judge, however, ruled the evidence admissible. Glenn Unnasch, the Austin crime lab Department of Public Safety’s fingerprint expert, was called to the crime scene on January 5th, 1994. Mr. Unnasch was allegedly “impeded” in his investigation by Pampa police, who

“refused to let him go over the entire crime scene, but instead directed him to the bloody prints they’d found, and told him to recover only those. He was told to look only for my prints.”

[quote Hank Skinner].

From the Statement of Testimony filed by Steven C. Losch, the attorney representing Hank for his Direct Appeal, “Unnasch believed that a search of the crime scene for latent prints that were not made in blood could have produced important evidence, but he did not collect it because the Pampa police did not ask him to do so. Unnasch was also not asked to compare appellant’s handprint to the apparent latent bloody handprint that Burroughs saw on Twila Busby’s left forearm.”

The Statement of Testimony has much more still to say about the analysis of the forensic evidence found at the murder scene. There are many stated instances of the investigation team declining to perform tests on readily available blood evidence that could have explained the source of individual blood concentrations and the manner of accumulation [eg spattered blood, consistent with proximity to an attack – soaked blood, consistent with accumulation some time after attack, etc.] Furthermore, in addition to this, there are further interesting points relating to the quality of forensic analysis. The following are quoted directly from the Statement of Testimony [emphases added]

“….The Pampa police asked Department of Public Safety criminalist Gary Stallings to determine whether the brown stain on the towel in the black plastic trash bag was human blood. Stallings did not perform that test or test the knife in the bag for blood……..”

“….Stallings did not comply with [Detective Terry] Young’s’s request to determine whether the blood on the blade of the knife that was found on the front porch was appellant’s blood or the blood of one of the victims. Young believed the answer to that question was important. Stallings claimed that it was insignificant because there was no evidence that any of the victims were stabbed with the knife that was found on the front porch. The prosecutor disagreed with Stallings: he told the jury in his summation that appellant stabbed Caler [Scooter] with that knife…..”

“….Dr. Peacock preserved …. [potential evidence of rape] in a rape kit. That evidence could have shown that Twila had sexual intercourse with someone other than appellant on or about the night of the murder. Young believed it was important to test it, but Stallings decided not to have the tests done because he did not believe that Twila was raped. Stallings did not know that Twila’s pants were unzipped and her blouse was raised above her stomach when her body was found…”

“….Dr. Peacock and Stallings agreed that human hairs in the palms of Twila Busby’s hands….could have come from the head of her assailant….No tests were done on the hairs because Stallings believed that they probably came from Twila’s head or the carpet….”

“….Stallings acknowledged that…his [Twila’s assailant’s] blood could have been caught under her fingernails. Clippings of Twila Busby’s bloody fingernails were preserved and submitted to Stallings for testing.

Stallings did not request a DNA test to determine the source of the blood because he believed that it was probably her own blood….”

Little regard was paid, then, to potentially vindicating evidence. It seems clear that the investigation team already thought they knew who their man was – or perhaps, as we shall see, who they wanted their man to be…

In summing up this section, we shall leave the last words to Hank himself – words which clearly illustrate his exasperation and frustration at the manner in which the “case” against him was protected by the exclusion of evidence which would have proven his innocence.

“Gary Stallings, who was the criminalist in charge of the testing done in this case, testified that there was no need to test any of the blood on the purported murder weapons, the handprints or the other surfaces where it was found because it ‘wasn’t relevant to the investigation’….Stallings compared it [the knife found on the porch] to ‘a cup of blood which the wind had blown up into the yard,’ that there was no proof it had anything to do with the murders and so there was no reason to test the blood on it. He said this would’ve presented an ‘unnecessary complication’ in the evidence. If what I believe is correct, it surely would’ve been a ‘complication.’ It would’ve proven my innocence.”

Read more in the Civil Rights section