Monday, February 3, 2014

Bulletin: Hank Skinner; Texas; Validity of DNA tests used to put him on death row is assailed by defence attorneys at evidentiary hearing; The Pampa News.

STORY: "Paper or plastic? Expert witness for Skinner defense claims evidence degraded over time while stored in plastic bags, by reporters Dennis Palmitier and Timothy P. Howsare, published by the Pampa News on February 3, 2014.

GIST: "Defense attorneys representing Hank Skinner, the death-row inmate convicted for murdering Twila Busby and her two sons in 1993, said during an evidentiary hearing Monday morning that had all DNA evidence from the crime scene been properly stored and tested, their client might have been acquitted.........In testimony Monday morning, an expert witness for the defense said that evidence from the crime scene was stored in plastic bags. Julie Heinig, PhD, testified that samples in plastic bags can break down over time and create contamination, such as mold. She concluded that samples in the Skinner case degraded since 1994 and questioned the validity of the DNA tests performed by the Department of Safety Crime Lab in Lubbock in 2012.........Heinig’s conclusion was the DNA had degraded sufficiently to void a clear comparison of DNA to any person. She said the samples should have been stored in breathable brown paper bags, similar to the ones used in grocery stores. Heinig works for DNA Diagnostic Center, an independent lab that does audits of DNA testing for criminal cases based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also during Monday’s proceedings, the defense tried to submit as evidence Exhibit No. 20, a jacket found next to the body of Busby. The defense wanted Heinig to validate the necessity of the jacket being tested for DNA. Defense attorney Douglas Robinson said he believes the jacket belonged to Busby’s deceased uncle, Robert Pennel, who defense has targeted as the actual killer. It is well known that Pennel made unwelcome sexual advances to Busby on the night of her death, the defense asserts. Georgette Oden, an assistant Texas attorney general, made an objection that Heinig was not qualified to speculate on evidence that was never tested. Judge Steven R. Emmert of the 31st District Court sustained Hayes’ objection. The jacket the defense wanted to enter as evidence is not the jacket that was lost during the early stages of the investigation, which supposedly belonged to Skinner."

The entire story can be found at:

See related Pampa News story on Monday's testimony. (Day One);  "Assistant Attorney General tears down defence witnesses: "During cross examination of defense witness Dr. Julie Heinig, PhD, a DNA expert from Cincinnati, Ohio, Georgette Oden, an assistant state attorney general, began a systematic dismantling of Heinig’s credentials as an expert witness.........Cross examination by Oden then delved into the defense’s contention that many of the blood samples taken were not conclusive for Hank Skinner’s DNA.........Four hairs were found on Twila Busby’s hand at the crime scene but were not tested. Busby and her two sons were the victims in the brutal triple homicide on Dec. 31, 1993. Skinner was Busby's live-in boyfriend. The defense had earlier questioned why the hairs weren’t tested. The state then brought as its witness John Lan Bundy, a former trace analyst for the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Lubbock, whose responsibility at the time was identifying the hairs found on Busby’s hand. Bundy testified that of those four hairs, one was an animal hair and the other three were not sufficient for laboratory testing because they weren’t attached to their roots. DNA cannot be taken from a hair unless it has a root and there are obvious differences between human hair and animal hair, he said. At that point, the state passed the witness to the defense, who chose not to cross examine Bundy."


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