Monday, June 4, 2012

It's About Damned Time

It's finally going to happen.  After years of fighting it, they conceded it should be done.
Until now, the State has opposed Skinner's request for DNA testing and argued to affirm the trial court's ruling on appeal.  Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state.
Skinner is Hank, on death row in Texas for a crime he insists he did not commit. He's been trying to get testing done for years.  For years the state fought him.  No, they said.  It won't prove your innocence so why should we let you?  Besides, it's just a last-minute stall.  
Of course, they didn't claim it was a last-minute stall until he'd been seeking testing for over a decade.  Still, they wouldn't test and wouldn't test.  They fought him in state courts and federal courts and the United States Supreme Court.  We must not, they said, allow testing of the DNA.  It would be the end of the Republic. (OK, they didn't really say it would be the end of the Republic.  I made that part up.)
And then, Friday, that thing about "further consideration."
So what happened?
The evidence didn't change.  Whatever it was before is what it is now.
The potential test results didn't change.  They can still confirm guilt, exonerate, or be inconclusive.
Skinner still says he's innocent.
Texas still says he's guilty.
So? What did change?
Well, for one thing, it looked like they were going to lose the fight.   Brandi Grissom, for the Texas Tribune, explains.
The advisory comes a month after that hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in which the judges on the nine-member panel grilled attorneys for the state about their continued resistance to the testing even after a spate of DNA exonerations in Texas. In Texas, at least 45 inmates have been exonerated based on DNA evidence.

"You really ought to be absolutely sure before you strap a person down and kill him," Judge Michael Keasler said at the May hearing.
When the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals looks like it's going to rule in favor of a condemned inmate, the state has to think about what it's doing.
And there's the continuing stench over the murder of the likely innocent (proved innocent except to those who don't believe the proof) Carlos DeLuna. And of course, Cameron Todd Willingham.  At some point, they start losing credibility when they say they can't make mistakes.
Which brings us, really, to what may be what really got them to change their tune.  The adventures of John Bradley.
Here, from an editorial in the Austin American-Statesman. 
For more than a decade, incumbent Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley was a formidable force locally and at the Legislature. With close ties to Gov. Rick Perry and a reputation that instilled respect as well as fear among defense attorneys, he was considered bullet proof politically.
Bradley, you'll recall, is that man chosen by Perry to torpedo the investigation of the non-arson fire for which Willingham was executed. And Bradley is the one who spent years arguing against testing the DNA that, when finally tested, proved that Michael Morton did not kill his wife, Christine.
But then, you see, just last week, the voters of Williamson County said they'd had enough.  The job of prosecutor, they said, isn't just to get convictions.  It's to try getting it right. 
And sometimes, at least sometimes, that means being willing to re-examine the evidence.  Even if it's at the request of someone who's been convicted and insists he's innocent and it can be checked and who knows.
Bradley was defeated in the Republican primary to hold onto his job as the elected DA. Which, and this was the point of Brandi Grissom's article, kind of put the fear, probably not of god, but certainly of the voters into the minds of prosecutors.  And maybe of the Attorney General.  Who undertook that "further consideration."
My repeated admonition has been,
Test the fucking DNA.
Maybe, just maybe, they're starting to get the hint.
And it's about damned time.

1 comment:

  1. I have also a word for it. One that says it all. "Finally."