” I’m optimistic. I’m not going to end up here and, to begin with, I should never have been put there, ”said Hank Skinner during a meeting with AFP on the death row of his prison in Texas. Incarcerated in Livingston, a small town 100 kilometers from Houston, the man has always maintained his innocence. He has been crying miscarriage of justice since he was sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her two children 27 years ago, on March 18, 1995.
The issue of DNA testing
This father of three, just in his sixties, has been waiting for more than three years for a decision from the Texas Court of Appeals, the highest criminal court in the state. This must assess whether the jury that sentenced him to death would have taken a different decision if he had benefited from DNA tests now available. He did not deny being in the house where the three victims died but claims he was unconscious after drinking alcohol and codeine. Found nearby with blood on his clothes, the convict claims that certain DNA tests prove his innocence.
Having worked in a law firm before his conviction, Hank Skinner shares his expertise with his fellow prisoners. “I got eleven people out of here. It’s better than almost any other death row lawyer except mine,” he adds with a laugh. The man has another project in mind: “To abolish the death penalty in the world,” he says smiling. I think if people knew how it is, they wouldn’t vote for the death penalty. I have always believed in humanity”.
197 sentenced to death in Texas
On five occasions, he was given an execution date by the courts. On March 24, 2010, the United States Supreme Court spared him 23 minutes before the scheduled lethal injection, just after what was to be his last meal.
Texas has 197 death row inmates. In 2020 and 2021, six were executed but eleven left death row, having benefited from a review of their sentence. Some are still behind bars, like the mentally ill Raymond Riles, whose December 1976 death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Others are free, like Cesar Fierro, sent back to Mexico after 40 years on death row. If the court agrees with the defense of Hank Skinner, he will remain imprisoned but may appeal to prove his innocence.