Death Row Inmate Eats Last Meal, Is Spared


Earlier this week, an eleventh-hour stay of execution was granted by the Supreme Court in the case of Henry “Hank” Skinner. The court will now address the question of Skinner’s appeal, which asks for the DNA testing that he claims will exonerate him.

Skinner heard the news while he was eating what would have been his last meal—two chicken thighs, a double bacon cheeseburger, fried catfish, onion rings, French fries, a salad with ranch dressing and a milkshake.

The 47-year-old, who has been sitting on Texas’s death row since 1995, would have been executed by lethal injection for killing his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two mentally disabled sons. Although he had a previous record of assault and car theft, and was an admitted drug user and heavy drinker, Skinner has always maintained his innocence in the violent killings.

Police in the town of Pampa, Texas found Busby and her two sons dead on New Year’s Eve, 1993. Busby had been raped, strangled so forcefully that her larynx and another bone in her throat were broken, and struck on the head 14 times with a wooden axe or pick handle. Her son Edwin Caler, 22, was shown by blood spatter analysis to have been close by at the time of his mother’s beating, before being stabbed himself. Another son, Randy Busby, 20, was stabbed to death in his bedroom.

Defense attorneys have long questioned the ability of Skinner, who was intoxicated on Xanax, codeine and alcohol that evening, to overcome the 6′ 6”, 225-pound Caler—a doubt that was reinforced by expert testimony at trial. They also pointed fingers at Twila Busby’s uncle, Robert Donnell, who had made sexual advances towards Busby at a party earlier that evening, and who had a violent temper and a criminal record to match. Donnell has since died in a car accident.

DNA testing at the time of the killings did show that Skinner, who was found in the closet of an acquaintance’s trailer, had blood from both Twila and Elwin on his clothing, but other pieces of evidence—including fingernail clippings and vaginal swabs from Twila, a bloody dishtowel, knives used in the stabbings, and a windbreaker jacket—have not yet been tested for DNA. It is these items whose testing Skinner is requesting, and that the Supreme Court will rule on.

Skinner’s case was taken up by students involved in Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project, which has already helped win stays of execution for 11 death-row inmates, in 2000. After the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refused to grant a reprieve for Skinner, lawmakers as well as private citizens began lobbying Texas Governor Rick Perry to step in and ensure that Skinner was guilty of the crimes before executing him.


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