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Death Row Texas DNA - Civil Rights Law Allows DNA Test Review
Caroline Lorraine

Mar 7, 2011, 12:39

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A death row Texas inmate's DNA can be reviewed according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that determined the inmate can use federal civil rights law to ask for a review of DNA evidence.

Death row inmate Henry W. Skinner has consistently maintained his innocence. His imminent execution was stayed at the last hour by the Supreme Court last year.

Skinner, now 49, was sentenced for the 1993 murders of his girlfriend and her two adult sons in the Texas Panhandle city of Pampa on New Year's Eve. The girlfriend, Twila Busby, was strangled and beaten with an ax handle and her mentally disabled sons, Elwin Caler and Randy Busby, were stabbed.

Skinner, who worked as a paralegal at the time of his arrest, has asked for new DNA testing on blood found on knives at the murder scene and material beneath the woman's fingernails, as well as rape kit samples.

More than six years after his conviction, a new Texas law allowed prisoners to gain post-conviction DNA testing in limited circumstances.

The Texas courts have denied Skinner's request for DNA testing, and federal courts said Skinner could not ask for the testing under federal civil rights law.

But in a majority opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court said there is federal court subject-matter jurisdiction over Skinner's complaint, and the claim he makes is recognizable under civil rights law.

The opinion noted Skinner is challenging the Texas courts' interpretation of the state DNA statute.

Ginsburg said in an earlier similar case out of Alaska, the Supreme Court only assumed that there was a right to make a claim under civil rights law, but did not specifically rule that there was. The latest ruling nails down that right.

A federal appeals court ruling was reversed and the case sent down for a new hearing based on Monday's majority opinion.

Source: UPI

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