Skinner Granted Stay; Buck Denied Hearing

According to a CNN report, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Hank Skinner on Monday afternoon, ruling that it needed time to review the state’s revised law on DNA testing.

The stay granted to Skinner is a positive sign considering the November 3 ruling by the Gray County court that denied Skinner’s appeal for the DNA testing.

Yesterday’s ruling, issued two days before Skinner’s scheduled execution, gives more time to Skinner’s defense team to convince the courts to investigate untested DNA evidence that would, according to Skinner’s lawyer, “resolve once and for all longstanding and troubling questions about the reliability of the verdict in his case.” While the ruling by the Court of Criminal Appeals does temporarily prevent the execution of Skinner, it does not guarantee that DNA evidence will be tested.

On the same day as this successful ruling for Skinner, another Texas death row prisoner, Duane Buck, was denied a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a story published in The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen reported that the Court voted to deny Buck certiorari, a type of writ seeking judicial review, thus placing Buck’s fate back into the hands of the State of Texas. You may recall that in Buck’s sentencing trial, an “expert” was allowed to tell jurors that the defendant would be more dangerous in the future because he was black. Texas officials later refused to give Buck a new sentencing trial even though it gave such trials to six other men whose trials were similarly tainted by illegal racial testimony.

The majority on the court suggested that the expert witness Walter Quijano’s racist testimony was “bizarre and objectionable” but apparently not enough to warrant giving Buck a new sentencing trial. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “today the Court denies review of a death sentence marred by racial overtones and a record compromised by misleading remarks and omissions made by the State of Texas in the federal habeas proceedings below. Because our criminal justice system should not tolerate either circumstance — especially in a capital case — I dissent and vote to grant the petition.” Although no date has been set, there will likely be a new execution date set for Buck in the near future.

Both of these rulings speak to the arbitrariness and inconsistency that exist within the death penalty system. As long as courts are unwilling to hear crucial evidence or appeal troubling rulings, it is unjust to allow the same court system to determine the life and death of the accused.

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