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In Death Row Case, Supreme Court Came Through But Texas Remains Guilty

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On March 24, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner. The stay will allow the Court more time to consider Skinner's civil rights claim that he is entitled to DNA testing which he believes will prove his innocence. The news came just one hour before Skinner was to be strapped to the gurney.

While this is certainly a relief, it does nothing to address the underlying fact that the authorities in Texas were ready and eager to execute Skinner without testing the available evidence. Apparently it's not important to them to be absolutely sure that they're killing the right guy.

Had the Supreme Court not intervened, Skinner would probably be dead now. And what if the DNA were later tested and proved that he was indeed innocent? We may be close to Easter, but there's no resurrecting an executed man.

This case is especially troubling in light of some other cases suggesting that Texas may have executed the wrong people.

We learned last September that Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by the state of Texas in 2004 for the alleged arson murders of his three daughters, was probably not responsible for the fire after all. According to an article by David Grann in the New Yorker, a forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fatal fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

Nevertheless, last October, Texas executed Reginald Blanton despite numerous flaws in the prosecution's case and the trial itself. Blanton had been convicted of fatally shooting his friend, Carlos Garza, and then stealing $79 worth of jewelry from Garza's home, where the murder took place.

According to Randi Jones of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, "Reginald's case exemplifies serious prosecutorial misconduct. They systematically excluded African Americans from the jury pool."

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Jones also noted that there was no physical evidence linking Blanton to the crime, and that Blanton was forced to rely on an incompetent public defender who failed to present evidence of innocence at the original trial.

As if that's not enough to establish reasonable doubt, Blanton's MySpace page contends that the shoe print on the victim's kicked-in apartment door did not match the shoes Blanton wore on the day of the crime, and that the only two witnesses were forced to sign statements against Blanton under threats of themselves being charged with the crime.

This looks to me like a truckful of reasonable doubt. And there is no excuse to execute someone when there is reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

But Texas apparently doesn't see it that way.

Texas seems to only want to kill.

Hopefully the Supreme Court will go on to allow the DNA testing in Hank Skinner's case. If not, then they will be as guilty as Texas.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
 

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