february 5, 2014
PAMPA — A Texas Department of Public Safety expert testified Tuesday that genetic material found on a knife at the scene of a 1993 triple homicide was consistent with Hank Skinner’s DNA profile, but the death row inmate’s defense team maintains that another man killed the family.
Georgette Oden, an assistant attorney general, quizzed DPS expert Brent Hester about a battery of DNA testing results during an evidentiary hearing at the Gray County courthouse.
Testimony ended Tuesday in the two-day hearing, but attorneys for both sides are expected to submit further briefs to District Judge Steven Emmert after court transcripts are completed.
The hearing focused on whether it is “reasonably probable” that Skinner, now 51, would have been acquitted if all DNA evidence in the case had been presented at his 1995 trial, according to court records.
Skinner was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in the slayings of Twila Jean Busby, 40, and her sons — 22- year-old Elwin “Scooter” Caler and 20-year-old Randy Busby.
Skinner has claimed he was too intoxicated to have slain the Busbys because he drank vodka and took codeine on the night of the killings.
After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Skinner’s execution three times due to changing post-conviction law, prosecutors agreed to allow DNA testing, and both sides now have received the results.
Hester, a DPS analyst from the Lubbock crime lab, testified Tuesday that genetic material recovered from the blade of a knife found on the front porch of the victims’ home could be linked to Skinner. Forensic tests on the knife blade, he said, proved the presence of blood on the weapon, and the material found on the knife contained DNA traces from Skinner, Caler and Busby.
“We do not say it was that person’s DNA,” Hester said of how DPS interprets DNA results recovered from a crime scene. “They are not consistent solely with him, but they are consistent with him being a possible contributor.”
Hester also testified that some DNA recovered from the crime scene was contaminated with his DNA and that of a former court reporter who handled evidence in the case. The longtime forensic scientist also testified that some genetic material recovered from a carpet stain, door handles in the home and a door frame could be tied to Skinner.
Hester also said DNA from an unknown individual also was located in the carpet stain, which was in a bedroom where the two male victims were found. Hester said that genetic material could have been deposited when the carpet was originally laid and could have come from nearly anyone who visited the Busby home at 804 E. Campbell St. in Pampa.
Robert Owen, Skinner’s attorney, said after the hearing that testimony showed minute traces of DNA from an unknown person and Twila Busby’s blood had been found on a dish towel that had been left in a plastic bag at the crime scene.
Owen also said the prosecution has claimed that Skinner stabbed Randy Busby in the back while he lay on his bunk bed, but Owen said testimony presented during the hearing casts doubt on the state’s theory.
“If Mr. Skinner stabbed Randy Busby in the manner claimed by the state, Mr. Skinner’s blood should have been on the blanket of Randy’s bed. It was not. If Mr. Skinner’s hands were covered with the victims’ blood when he staggered out of the house, their blood should have been mixed with his on the doorknobs he touched. It was not,” Owen said in a statement.
Owen said a state expert’s testimony also indicated that three of four hairs found in Twila Busby’s hand — hairs the defense said contain DNA consistent with a maternal relative of the victims — were “visually dissimilar” to the victim’s own hair. That testimony, he said, supports the defense team’s conclusion that Robert Donnell, Twila Busby’s now-deceased uncle, killed the Pampa family.
“The state presented no compelling evidence that the hairs could have come from another maternal relative. In fact, Ms. Busby’s mother stated under oath before Mr. Skinner’s trial that she had not been inside the house in the preceding four months,” Owen said in a statement.
Owen also said he was disappointed that Emmert did not allow testimony from a key witness about a jacket found at the crime scene. The witness was prepared to testify the now-missing jacket belonged to Donnell.
“At the DNA hearing, Mr. Skinner sought to present testimony from a witness who can positively identify the jacket as Donnell’s, and to have his DNA expert explain how testing could have confirmed Donnell’s DNA on the jacket,” Owen said in a statement. “We respectfully disagree with this decision. In our view, this evidence is at the center of the case. It shows why a jury that heard all the evidence, including DNA results, would have harbored a reasonable doubt about Mr. Skinner’s guilt.”
Owen also noted that much of the DNA evidence gathered in the case was mishandled, contaminated or lost.
Owen indicated in his statement that “doubts about Hank Skinner’s guilt are far too great to allow his execution to proceed, particularly where the state’s utter failure to safeguard key pieces of evidence may make it impossible to resolve those questions conclusively.”
(Source: Amarillo Globe News)