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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner insists on innocence as he weathers legal downturn in his case

Henry "Hank" Skinner: "My life is
on the line for a crime I didn't do."
LIVINGSTON - Every morning, convicted triple killer Henry Skinner awakes about 4 a.m. as breakfast is served at Texas' death row, deep within the concertina wire-girded Polunksy Unit 10 miles west of this East Texas hamlet. Around him are the furnishings of his 6-by-10-foot steel and concrete cell - a sink, toilet and bunk. For 22 hours a day, this austere place is Skinner's home.

It is here that Skinner, a onetime Pampa paralegal sentenced to die for one of the bloodiest killings in recent Texas Panhandle history, awaits his fate.

"My life is on the line for a crime I didn't do," Skinner, 52, said this week. "As far as the state is concerned, I'm expendable trash."

Skinner's case garnered international attention as he battled for more than a decade to obtain DNA testing of vaginal swabs, a bloody knife and dozens of other pieces of previously unexamined crime scene evidence. Twice Skinner's imminent execution was postponed to allow his lawyers to argue for the testing, which finally began in 2012.

Now, with mid-July's ruling by Pampa state District Judge Steven Emmert that the test results probably would not have altered the Skinner jury's guilty verdict, the killer's life again hangs in the balance.

Skinner was convicted of the 1993 New Year's Eve murders of his live-in lover, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons, Randy Busby and Elwin "Scooter" Caler. Twila Busby was strangled and bludgeoned with an ax handle; the men, stabbed.

Skinner repeated assertions that the killer was Twila Busby's uncle, Robert Donnell, "a mean drunk," who had sexually accosted her during a New Year's Eve party at a nearby residence. Six weeks before the killings, Skinner and Busby's sons arrived at the family home to find Donnell assaulting his niece, he said.

Suspicion first was cast on Donnell by Northwestern University journalism students who traveled to Texas in 2000 to investigate leads in the case. They encountered a witness who had seen the man cleaning his pickup with uncharacteristic fervor just days after the killings.

Donnell later was killed in an auto accident.

Skinner's legal team believes a blood-spattered windbreaker found at the crime scene may have belonged to Donnell. The jacket was lost while in the custody of Gray County authorities, and was not available for DNA testing.

None of Skinner's explanations gained traction with jurors or later appellate court judges.


Source: Houston Chroncile, Allan Turner, July 27, 2014

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