CHICAGO — A Texas appeals court issued a last-minute stay of execution Monday for death row inmate Hank Skinner in order to determine if further DNA testing should be conducted on evidence from the crime scene.
The stay comes just two days before Skinner was set to be executed for bludgeoning his girlfriend to death and fatally stabbing two of her children.
“Because the DNA statute has changed, and because some of those changes were because of this case, we find that it would be prudent for this Court to take time to fully review the changes in the statute as they pertain to this case,” the court wrote in a two-page order.
Skinner has not denied being present in the home at the time of the killings but he has insisted that DNA collected at the site could clear him as a suspect in the 1993 crimes.
Texas authorities have refused to carry out the tests on evidence found at the home ever since a jury convicted him in 1995. Skinner’s attorneys asked an appeals court to reconsider the request, which was denied by lower courts.
They have also appealed to Texas Governor Rick Perry, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who has boasted of his support for capital punishment.
Skinner’s attorney Rob Owen hailed the court ruling.
“The Court of Criminal Appeals with its decision today has ensured that Mr Skinner’s request for DNA testing will receive the thorough and serious consideration it deserves,” Owen said in a statement.
“We are grateful for the Court’s action and look forward to the opportunity to make Mr Skinner’s case for DNA testing in that forum.”
French anti-death penalty activist Sandrine Ageorges, who met and married Skinner while he was on death row in the 1990s, said her husband was “handling the situation quite well despite everything.”
“He has no illusions about an overly politicized system to expect that the truth will carry the day,” she told AFP in an email Saturday.
Ageorges said she is “realistic, and thus worried,” adding that “the political dimension is taking over and that does not reassure me at all.”
Skinner has consistently maintained his innocence.