On Monday afternoon the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Texas' planned killing of Hank Skinner on Wednesday night.
The Court issued the stay to allow Mr. Skinner to litigate the issue of whether or not he is entitled to have DNA tests run on items taken into evidence by investigators. The laws regarding post-conviction DNA testing changed after Mr. Skinner was convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two adult sons back in 1993, but the new law was never applied in Mr. Skinner's case.
Last week Gray County District Judge Steve Emmert denied Mr. Skinner's request to test the items.
Next to Mr. Skinner, the happiest person in the room is Gov. Rick Perry who dodged having to decided between killing a man and granting a 30-day stay so that the matter could be litigated. With his presidential campaign taking on water at a rapid pace, he couldn't have been happy with the choice that was put before him.
By now we should all be aware that you don't walk out of a courtroom knowing the truth. You walk out of the courtroom with a verdict. There is a big difference.
Mr. Skinner was convicted of three murders. That jury decided it was appropriate for the state to kill him. But, if we're going to allow the state to take lives, shouldn't we at least make certain that the right person is being killed? DNA testing was not performed on certain pieces of evidence - that was a tactical decision by Mr. Skinner's attorney. That decision may have been right or it may have been wrong.
But the fact remains that the items were never tested.
The results of the testing may or may not prove Mr. Skinner's innocence. The fact that someone else's DNA is on those items doesn't mean that Mr. Skinner didn't commit the crimes for which he was convicted; but it does cast more than a shade of doubt on that determination.
And if we're going to sit back and watch the government exercise its greatest power - the power to take a life - then we damn well better be certain that the person strapped to that gurney did the deed.
Skinner stay of execution