A Texas appeals court issued a last-minute stay of execution for death row inmate Hank Skinner, in order to determine whether to conduct further DNA testing at the crime scene. Skinner has been on death row for 16 years.
AFP - A Texas appeals court issued a last-minute stay of execution Monday for death row inmate Hank Skinner in order to determine if further DNA testing should be conducted on evidence from the crime scene.
Skinner, who has been on death row for 16 years and has long maintained his innocence, was scheduled to be executed Wednesday for murdering his girlfriend and two of her sons.
He was granted a similar reprieve by the Supreme Court last year less than an hour before he was set to die, raising the profile of a case which has long been a cause celebre among anti-death penalty activists.
Skinner, 49, insists he was comatose on the couch due to an accidental and "near-fatal" mix of alcohol and codeine when his girlfriend was bludgeoned to death and her sons were fatally stabbed after a New Year's party.
He has argued that DNA testing of a bloody jacket found next to his girlfriend's body and other evidence found at the site could clear him of the 1993 crimes.
State officials have long refused to grant the request, citing a restrictive DNA testing law.
Texas lawmakers however made changes to the statute this year which lifted many of the restrictions.
"Because the DNA statute has changed, and because some of those changes were because of this case, we find that it would be prudent for this Court to take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case," the Texas criminal appeals court wrote in a two-page stay order.
"Appellant's execution is stayed pending the resolution of this appeal."
Skinner's attorney Rob Owen hailed the court ruling.
"The Court of Criminal Appeals with its decision today has ensured that Mr. Skinner's request for DNA testing will receive the thorough and serious consideration it deserves," Owen said in a statement.
"We are grateful for the Court's action and look forward to the opportunity to make Mr. Skinner's case for DNA testing in that forum."
The stay comes after a US District Court judge denied Skinner's third request for DNA testing on Thursday.
A group of current and former elected officials, prosecutors and judges wrote a letter last month urging a delay so the evidence could be tested.
Skinner, who is married to French death penalty activist Sandrine Ageorges, also got help from across the Atlantic on Friday when France expressed "concern" and called on Texas to put off the execution.
Ageorges, who met and married Skinner while he was on death row in the 1990s, said Saturday her husband was "handling the situation quite well despite everything."
"He has no illusions about an overly politicized system to expect that the truth will carry the day," she told AFP in an email.
Ageorges said she is "realistic, and thus worried," adding that "the political dimension is taking over and that does not reassure me at all."
Had Skinner's appeal been denied, he would have had few options save a rare intervention by the state's Republican Governor Rick Perry, who is running for president while boasting of his support for capital punishment.
More than 120,000 people signed an online petition urging Perry to halt Skinner's execution.
"We trust you to do the right thing for justice and for the truth in Texas, before it is too late," the petition on Change.org read.
Date created : 2011-11-08