Death row man saved midway through last cheeseburger

Convicted of murdering girlfriend, Texan hoping DNA evidence will clear his name

Death-row inmate Hank Skinner was slowly chewing his way through the enormous cheeseburger that was supposed to be his last supper when good news arrived: he'd no longer be forced to digest the artery-clogging meal in an executioner's chair.

The US Supreme Court intervened late on Wednesday to prevent a lethal injection from being given to the convicted murderer, saying it wants more time to consider his appeal. "I'd made up my mind that I was going to die," the condemned man told guards. "I really feel like I won today."

Skinner has always maintained his innocence of the murder of his girlfriend Twila Busby and her two adult sons at their home in Texas on New Year's Eve 1993, and that the killer was the victim's uncle. To prove his version of events, he wants key crime-scene evidence, including semen samples and bloodied knives, to be DNA tested.

But several courts, of increasing seniority, have denied that request, saying that a convicted man has no right under US law to seek a review of evidence that his defence team did not get analysed at his original trial.

Even though the execution has been stayed, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will authorise tests that could either confirm or disprove Skinner's guilt. The justices merely want more time to study his appeal – and will probably not make a decision for several weeks.

In the meantime, Skinner – whose full menu for his last meal was two chicken thighs, a double bacon cheeseburger, fried catfish, onion rings, French fries, a salad with ranch dressing and a milkshake – remains on death row at the Walls unit in Huntsville, Texas, where his fate is the latest cause célèbre for campaigners seeking to abolish capital punishment. In recent days, the state's gung-ho Governor, Rick Perry, has been bombarded with letters from around the world asking him to delay the execution.

Skinner's supporters say he was asleep, having consumed drink and drugs when Busby was raped, strangled, and left on their living room floor with her head battered by an axe handle. He also slept through the murder of her sons, who were stabbed in the back as they slept, they claim.

At his trial, in 1995, Skinner's defence lawyer failed to have most of the evidence from the scene, including a rape kit, several biological samples, and the alleged murder weapons DNA tested. The jury convicted him after just two hours of debate.

Doubt began being cast on Skinner's guilt in 2000, when a group of students from the David Protess Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University, who have been responsible for the exoneration of five others on death row, came to Texas to investigate his case.

They interviewed Andrea Reed, a star prosecution witness, who recanted her testimony that Skinner confessed. They also discovered that Busby's uncle, Robert Donnell, had a history of sexual violence and had made advances towards the victim that night.

It ought to be easy to establish if Donnell, rather than Skinner, fought with Busby before her murder: scientists would simply analyse flesh samples taken from beneath her fingernails, and blood found on the weapon.

In the meantime, Skinner's fate has gained international prominence. He recently married a French woman who campaigns against the death penalty, and President Nicolas Sarkozy has been among those calling for an appeal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...