Texas' Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution to convicted murderer Henry Watkins Skinner who was scheduled to die tomorrow for the New Year's Eve, 1993 slayings of his girlfriend and her two adult sons at their home in Pampa, Texas, reported the Associated Press.
Skinner had long asked that DNA testing be conducted. He came within an hour of execution last year before the U.S. Supreme Court stopped his scheduled injection to consider his federal civil rights suit in which he contends that prosecutors improperly were withholding evidence he wants tested. The high court eventually ruled he could sue to seek the evidence but never addressed whether prosecutors had to hand it over. Two weeks ago, a federal magistrate recommended any action on that suit be put on hold until the state courts rule in his case.
According to the Associated Press, Skinner's lawyers argued to his trial court that another man, a now-deceased relative of the victims, or some unknown intruder "might well have been the real murderer" and questions about the evidence "raises the level of doubt to full-scale alarm that the jury's verdict may very well have been wrong."
"We find that it would be prudent for this court to take the time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case," the state's Court of Criminal Appeals said in a four-paragraph ruling, reported the Associated Press.
Skinner, his legal team and capital punishment opponents had insisted prosecutors' opposition to additional DNA testing could lead to the execution of an innocent man. Skinner would have been the 13th inmate given lethal injection this year in Texas, which is the nation's busiest death penalty state.
"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," Rob Owen, Skinner's lead appeals attorney, said in a statement emailed by his office. "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."
Prosecutors say Skinner's appeals are ploys to stall his punishment, and that his claims about the evidence aren't new and that the courts have already decided the issue. The Texas attorney general's office, which has been fighting Skinner's appeals, had no comment on the ruling, reported Associated Press.
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