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Arizona: Execution witnesses have First Amendment right to hear entire process, 9th Circuit rules

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A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that witnesses to Arizona executions have a First Amendment right to hear the entire execution process to help determine if executions are done “in a humane and lawful manner.”
The ruling comes 5 years after the last execution in Arizona ended up with the condemned inmate, Joseph Wood, gasping for almost two hours and in apparent agony behind soundproof glass.
A 3-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the claim, by seven death-row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, that the ability to hear what’s happening in the execution room will foster a heightened level of transparency around the death penalty.

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“People might say, ‘That sounds so gory, why do you want to hear what’s happening in there?'” said Morgan Loew, an investigative reporter with CBS 5 in Arizona and the president of the First Amendment Coalition. “What we’re doing is fighting for more access to probably the most …

Texas judge rules DNA tests probably would not have cleared convicted killer Henry Skinner

A Texas judge has ruled that DNA evidence probably would not have cleared convicted killer Henry Skinner of the 3 murders that sent him to death row.

Skinner, 52, was condemned for the 1993 New Year's Eve murders of his live-in girlfriend Twila Busby and her 2 adult sons, Elwin Caler and Randy Busby. Skinner, a verbally combative paralegal whose case gained international attention in anti-death penalty circles, consistently argued he had been incapacitated by alcohol and codeine when the killings occurred.

Skinner twice received last-minute stays of executions as his lawyers sought to obtain testing of dozens of pieces of crime scene evidence not previously tested. Among them were a bloody knife and bloodstains found throughout the victims' Pampa home.

A windbreaker that Skinner's lawyers contended might have been worn by the killer disappeared from police custody and was not subjected to DNA testing. Earlier this year, Skinner's legal team argued to Pampa state District Judge Steven Emmert that the killings had been committed by Twila Busby's uncle, who reportedly accosted her at a party shortly before her death.

In a 1-page ruling, Emmert ruled that it was "reasonably probable" that the new DNA test results would not have led to acquittal if they had been presented at Skinner's trial.

Skinner's attorney, Robert Owen, could not immediately be reached for comment. The Associated Press Wednesday reported the judge's ruling would be appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Source: Houston Chronicle, July 16, 2014


Ruling Goes Against Death Row Inmate Skinner

Hank Skinner
A district court judge ruled against death row inmate Hank Skinner this week, saying it was “reasonably probable” Skinner would have still been convicted of a triple murder even if recently conducted DNA evidence had been available at his 1995 trial.

Tuesday’s brief ruling did not provide details of the judge’s rationale. But it validated state attorneys, who had emphasized that the testing identified Skinner’s DNA at 19 additional spots in the crime scene — among them a knife used in the murders — while failing to provide new confirmation that Busby’s uncle had been there.

Skinner’s attorneys countered that the more than 180 new tests, which examined roughly 40 pieces of evidence, raised a variety of doubts about Skinner’s guilt and the state’s theory of the crimes. Three hairs found in Busby’s hand were identified as dissimilar to those of people living in the house and matched the DNA of a maternal relative. Such evidence, they argued, would have convinced a jury that at least a reasonable doubt existed in the case.

State prosecutors said the matches to someone on Busby’s maternal side of the family came from degraded DNA and could have a number of explanations. Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argued that Skinner’s DNA would already have been on many household items, including the knife, because he lived in the house.

The defense also said the court should have taken a look at a bloody windbreaker found at the scene, which police collected as evidence but the state then lost. The testimony of a witness who could identify the jacket as belonging to the uncle was not admitted as evidence, the lawyers said in a statement, criticizing “the overall unfairness of this process” and “bungling by the State.”

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Source: The Texas Tribune, July 16, 2014

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