WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a Texas death row inmate should have access to evidence for DNA testing that he says could clear him of three murders.
The justices said Monday they will use the case of Hank Skinner to decide whether prison inmates may use a federal civil rights law to do DNA testing that was not performed prior to their conviction.
Federal appeals courts have decided the issue differently. The high court previously blocked Skinner’s execution while it considered his appeal.
Skinner, 47, faced lethal injection for the bludgeoning and strangling of his girlfriend, Twila Jean Busby, 40, and the stabbing of her two adult sons. The slayings occurred at their home in the Texas Panhandle town of Pampa on New Year’s Eve in 1993. He was arrested about three hours after the bodies were found. Police found him in a closet at the trailer home of a woman he knew. He was splattered with the blood of at least two of the victims. Skinner said a combination of vodka and codeine left him passed out on a couch and physically incapable of clubbing Busby 14 times with an ax handle and stabbing her two sons.
Prosecutors argued Skinner wasn’t entitled to testing of evidence that wasn’t analyzed before his 1995 trial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is the latest court to agree with prosecutors and reject Skinner’s appeal.
The case, Skinner v. Switzer, 09-9000, will be argued in the fall.