Washington Post Article Calls Attention to the Need for Standardized Policies on Post-Conviction DNA Testing
Henry Skinner was 45 minutes away from lethal injection when he received a stay of execution to decide whether to test DNA evidence that could possibly overturn his 1995 murder conviction. Skinner was convicted of the 1993 murders of his girlfriend Twila Busby and Busby’s mentally disabled adult sons. Gray County, TX prosecutors say that Skinner had the opportunity to get the DNA tested at his trial and chose not to, while Skinner maintains that he is innocent and always wanted the evidence to be tested.
The case has gone all the way to the US Supreme Court, where the issue at hand is whether post-conviction DNA testing is a civil right. Those who disagree point to the additional expense for states and the lengthy litigation that would result from automatic availability of DNA testing for convicted offenders. Those in favor maintain that post-conviction DNA testing should be available to all in order to make sure that true justice is served in cases where an innocent person might otherwise
Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, a well-known and outspoken supporter of allowing access to DNA, said, “If there’s DNA and the person is claiming his innocence, and you look at the case and there may be a possibility of it, what’s the harm? If he’s guilty, then the system worked. If he’s not, then he didn’t work, so let’s fix it. I don’t see the rationale in blocking a test where there’s a legitimate question of innocence.”
Whether Skinner will get the DNA testing he wants is still unknown. Barry Scheck, co-director and founder of the Innocence Project in New York, said, “I’m still stunned by the irrational decisions of some prosecutors and law enforcement not just to do the test and find out. It’s much cheaper and faster just to do it than to litigate.”