A stay for Hank Skinner — but it’s not over
Published Apr 5, 2010 8:37 PM
Even as the minutes slipped away before her spouse was to be put to death,
Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner never lost hope that he would win a reprieve.
“On the telephone earlier that day, I told him, ‘I’m sure
that you are going to live,’” the French anti-death penalty
campaigner said. “He said to me, ‘If you could see what I see all
around me, you wouldn’t say that.’”
“He was three meters from the death chamber and mere minutes from death
when word came from the U.S. Supreme Court that granted a last-minute stay of
execution,” Ageorges-Skinner told Workers World.
Veteran abolition activist Njeri Shakur commented: “Talk of cruel and
unusual! Hank has proclaimed his innocence for 15 years, has asked for DNA
testing yet the district attorney refuses to release the DNA, and finally they
take him to the death house. Then at the last minute his life is spared. The
courts could have done this days ago or months ago or even years ago! Why did
they torture this innocent man up to the last minute?”
Forty minutes before he was to be executed on March 24, Texas death row
prisoner and activist Hank Skinner was spared by the U.S. Supreme Court. His
spouse and two daughters had told him good-bye, his friend and spiritual
advisor had met with him and was prepared to witness the execution, Skinner had
eaten his last meal, and he had resigned himself to being murdered by the state
With a crowd of Skinner’s supporters gathering outside the death house,
lawyer Rob Owen arrived at the Huntsville hotel where Ageorges-Skinner, her
stepdaughter Natalie Skinner, and a throng of supporters were getting into
their cars to drive the two miles to the Walls Unit where Skinner was awaiting
execution. When Owen announced a stay, screams and cries of joy pierced the
quiet air of this small East Texas prison town.
An impromptu victory rally was held minutes later outside the death house. A
leader of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement took the microphone and
blasted the cowardly state officials who were going to allow an execution when
the forensic evidence had not even been tested. She then introduced
Skinner’s family, who addressed the crowd.
‘It’s still not over’
“I thank all of you who are here today who have stood by us on this
journey. I wouldn’t have been able to stand up and talk right now if not
for you. It is still not over, however,” Ageorges-Skinner said.
“The Supreme Court granted a stay so they could have more time to
consider whether to accept Hank’s cert petition. If they accept it, then
it could be a while before they rule on whether to allow him to proceed to sue
the Gray County D.A. to release the evidence for testing. If they do not accept
the cert petition, then Texas will be free to set another execution
Ron Carlson, who has lived through the murder of his sister, Deborah Thornton,
in 1983 and his father less than a year later, also spoke. He stressed that
executions were vengeance, and should be abolished.
Activist Angie Agapetus spoke to the crowd about Sam Bustamante’s
scheduled execution on April 27. “Sam should not be executed. He has
mental health issues that should stop it. Please write to the governor and
Board of Pardons and ask that they grant clemency for Sam.”
While dozens of Skinner’s supporters gathered to celebrate at a local
Mexican restaurant, Ageorges-Skinner and Curtis McCarty, an Oklahoman who came
within hours of execution before DNA evidence exonerated him, snuck away with
CNN staff and cameras to appear live on the Larry King Show. Supporters watched
the show from the restaurant, cheering when Skinner was interviewed. He told
how he couldn’t get any Texas court to order DNA testing, even though it
could prove either his innocence or his guilt.
Skinner arrived on Texas death row in 1995, and has consistently stood up for
not only his own rights but those of others. He has written a newsletter over
the years entitled “The Hell Hole News” that has chronicled the
injustices and violations of laws by the wardens, guards and staff at death
For his activism, Skinner has been targeted by prison staff for especially
cruel treatment, right up to the last days before his scheduled execution. His
spouse was banned from writing and visiting him for the last 22 months, based
on fabricated charges.
Skinner has stayed strong, even while being tortured. His cell has been
searched four times a day, and he was stripped of all his personal and legal
property. He has been denied many visits, including one by a Papal emissary the
week before his scheduled execution.
The struggle to save Skinner’s life came on the heels of an Anti-Death
Penalty Alternative Spring Break held in Austin the week of March 15-19. Scores
of students from around Texas and the United States gathered to learn about the
use of the death penalty, how to organize against it, how to do media work, how
to organize a rally and how to lobby a state legislature.
Students lobbied on Skinner’s behalf. As a result Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis
and State Rep. Elliott Naishtat wrote letters to Texas Gov. Rick Perry asking
for a stay of execution to allow for DNA testing.
A highlight of the week was the presence of six men who had collectively served
over 65 years on death rows around the country but were released after being
proven innocent. All six spoke at a Capitol rally that ended the week on a high
“A quick reminder, April 4 is Hank’s birthday, so don’t
hesitate to drop him a line or send him a card,” Ageorges-Skinner told
Workers World. His address is Henry Skinner #999143, Polunsky Unit, 3872 F.M.
350 South, Livingston, TX 77351. (www.hankskinner.org)
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