Until death us do part on Death Row …

His name is Hank Skinner. Her name is Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner. She’s French. He’s American, 47 years old, and he has been sentenced to death by the State of Texas. For the murder of his lover and her two sons. This is the story: In 1995 the State of Texas condemned to death “Hank” – Henry […]

His name is Hank Skinner.

Her name is Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner.

She’s French.

He’s American, 47 years old, and he has been sentenced to death by the State of Texas. For the murder of his lover and her two sons.

This is the story:

In 1995 the State of Texas condemned to death “Hank” – Henry Watkins – Skinner for the December 31, 1993 murder in Pampa, Texas of Twila Busby, 41, and her two adult sons, Randy Busby and Elwin Caler, both of them disabled.

The method of execution in Texas is lethal injection.

So for 15 years Skinner has been on death row waiting for his life to be ended.

(I must just say that I am not voicing an opinion here, I am just telling the story, okay?)

Skinner has always claimed his innocence. (A sarcastic French cop told me that there are only innocent people in jail – the guilty walk around among us …)

Busby and Skinner had met at an AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) meeting and to use his own words about the meeting, “We just fell together. We just clicked man. We were sick in love.”

The jury at Skinner’s trial found that, in a jealous rage, on that last night of the year 1993, he had bashed Busby’s head in with an axe handle and had then stabbed her two sons to death as well.

This was what the police put together of that night.

Skinner and Busby were to go to a party but Skinner was too drunk from vodka and drugged from codeine that Busby went alone – earlier a friend had unsuccessfully tried to pull Skinner up from a couch on which he was lying asleep, but Skinner was, in the friend’s words, “practically comatose”.

At the party, an uncle of Busby, one Robert Donnell, a man with a criminal record of theft, burglary and embezzlement, and who’d done time, started to flirt with her; the two had been lovers before she’d met Skinner. Busby, put out at Donnell’s behaviour towards her, set off back home. Donnell left the party not so much later.

Just before midnight that night neighbors summoned the police because Busby’s son Elwin Caler was wandering around outside in his underpants. He was bleeding heavily from multiple stab wounds and would succumb soon afterwards. Inside the house police found Busby dead on the living room floor; her face and head had been bashed to pulp. Her other son, Randy Busby, was lying dead in his bunk bed; he’d been stabbed three times in the back.

Having been told by the neighbors that a man named Skinner lived with the dead woman and her two sons, the police had then begun to look for him with sniffer dogs. The dogs found him hiding at the trailer-house of a former girlfriend; his clothes were covered in blood and he had a deep gash in one of his hands.

The ex-girlfriend, Andrea Reed, a former AA adherent who had fallen off the wagon (like Busby and Skinner) would tell police that Skinner had come banging at her door and had threatened he would kill her if she did not take him in and dress his wounded hand. She gave him some sewing needles and some fishing line and he stitched up his hand himself.

Three hours later the police arrived.

By then Skinner had given Reed several reasons for the state he was in.

He said that while he and Busby were smoking crack and drinking vodka “some Mexicans” brandishing knives had walked in and had attacked them, Another versions was that he’d gone out and on returning had found Busby in bed with her ex-husband and in a rage he might have kicked her to death.

Yet another version was that some thugs had shot him.

The police had no doubt that Skinner had cold-bloodedly beaten Busby and her two sons to death, and at his trial the jury took just two hours to agree with them.

The police, by the way, had carried out some DNA testing – on the blood on Skinner’s clothes, a bloody palm print, the clothes the victims had worn at the time of their attack and on Randy Busby’s body and bed. The tests had confirmed that the blood on Skinner’s clothes were those of the three victims and that Skinner had been present in the room where Randy Busby had been stabbed to death. That Skinner had nearly lethal levels of drugs and alcohol in his system did not deter the prosecution from arguing that as a habitual drug and alcohol user his system would have built up tolerance and he would have remained “operative”. That he had had the mental clarity to have decided that he must go and hide somewhere was further proof that he was perfectly “operative” at the time of the killing.

But the police had not done DNA-testing on two knives, a bloodstained dishtowel, a man’s windbreaker and a rape kit (what this is, I do not know) they had found at the house. They also had not DNA-tested Busby’s fingernails.

These are objects which are still of course in the police’s possession, and Skinner has for the past decade been fighting in court to get the office of the Texas Attorney General to do DNA tests on them. His DNA won’t be on those, he says: The murderer’s will be. The AG’s office has however refused further DNA testing; the AG’s office’s lawyers said at one stage that Skinner had, at the time of the trial “declined to have the evidence tested” and this meant that the jury had spoken.

In 1996, Sandrine Ageorges, a French movie production manager (she has worked on movies with Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hillary Swank to name only them) and an anti-capital punishment activist since her youth, began writing to three men on death row in the States. Skinner was one of them and his reply to her first letter had come to 40 pages. Later that year she went to Texas and met him.

Ageorges and Skinner kept writing to one another. His letters were long and poetic. She continued to visit him in jail, spending six months of a year in the States to be able to see him frequently.

And then on October 3, 2008, the two were married. They had not however ever even touched – they had always spoken through a Plexiglas divider – and the marriage ceremony was conducted by proxy.

So Skinner’s fight for DNA testing and for a retrial has become that of Ageorges. She’s become the international representative for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, formed on-line support groups, keeps everyone informed of the case in a blog and speaks in support of him on radio and on TV.

But despite Ageorges’s efforts (and those of Skinner’s legal team) for those DNA-testing to be done and for a retrial, Skinner’s scheduled execution date – Wednesday, February 24 – was upheld.

Speaking on a French radio station ten days ago Ageorges said that her visiting rights to her husband had been withdrawn in June 2009 but that she was setting off for Texas all the same for February 24. (She’s in Texas now and her latest news is that with the assistance of the French Consulate she’s going to be allowed to visit Skinner – she hopes that such a visit would not be her last.) Her right to correspond with Skinner was also withdrawn last June, but this has now been reinstated.

Well, on Wednesday, February 17, Skinner’s execution date, just a week away, was rescheduled for Wednesday, March 24; the reason given is that there is a problem with the death warrant

If you believe that Skinner is innocent, or that he should be given another trial, or you o
ppose capital punishment, then you can sign a petition to save his life here

(Remember, I am not expressing an opinion here; I wrote this because I am a true crime writer and I find this case interesting.)

There are currently 342 people on Death Row in the State of Texas; ten of them are female.

Between 1819 and 1923 Texas executed death row prisoners by hanging. From 1924 to 1977 it was the electric chair. In 1977 it became lethal injection.

Lethal injection uses a solution consisting of sodium thiopental (a lethal dose to sedate the person), pancuronium bromide (a muscle relaxant which collapses the diaphragm and lungs), and potassium chloride (which stops the heartbeat).

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

8 Responses to “Until death us do part on Death Row …”

  1. 8
    Daniel Says:

    great post, thanks for sharing

  2. 7
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    J,
    Thank you very much for this. I was not interested enouch in the case to read up the details and none was given here by the parties concerned. All that was reported was that he was requesting a DNA test which the DA's office was refusing. Shows you how a story can be twisted. I presume that his French wife knows all of this but has chosen to believe her husband.
    It is a pity that you did not sign your comment with your name because I would like to know who you are.

  3. 6
    j Says:

    The reason is [drum roll] that no matter the results of the dna testing, it will not result in the verdict being overturned. The DA knows it; the defense knows it. The defense merely wants to keep delaying the execution.

    They never test all the evidence because not all evidence collected is forensically significant.

    If it comes back to Skinner – he lives there. And if it did come back to someone else, it does not mean all the evidence against skinner goes away. At most it means someone else was present.

    The DA initially didn't test all the evidence because it was not necessary. The defense was happy that they did not test all the evidence, because it gave them a a defense, i.e., they would argue that the state did not meet their burden.

    Why were both sides comfortable with this? Because of the blood evidence for one. Skinner lied when he said he was comatose during the murders. He had medium velocity impact spatter all over his clothes and cast off stains on his back. The blood spatters say that it was skinner who was beating twila's head in with the axe handle. actually he strangled her first.

    He had a history of violence, was an ex con who had violated his parole, had threaten his exwife with beating her to death with an axe handle, had beaten other women, etc.

    And, he gave a videotaped confession the morning he was arrested that was not introduced at trial. In the confession he said that he and Twila got into a fight b/c he was angry that she went to the party and more specifically, she took his booze with her. He said she was "forbidden to go over there by me." They were fighting and he knocked her down. It stopped and then she went into the back room where the axe handle was kept and came back and struck him. He was on top of her when Elwin came in the room and grabbed him by the neck and threw him off his mother.

    That is where it ends – the parts we know about, that is. It was read into the record during a hearing. I'm paraphrasing those parts. The videotape and transcript of the tape have been sealed.

    The uncle is a red herring. It was not his jacket (wrong color). No one saw any blood on his truck, or his clothes, or any injuries on him. In fact, the woman who said he was acting suspicious never said anything to the police at the time.

  4. 5
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    Not always do we know why District Attorneys and Prosecutors make the decisions that they do. Neither do we always know why murderers do what they do.

  5. 4
    David Says:

    I can't fathom why the DA will not allow DNA testing of cold hard evidence. There must be a reason, and it probably should be a very good reason.

  6. 3
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    Yes,Jo, I do pick the blood and guts ones, don't I.

  7. 2
    Jo Says:

    There have been a number of things on TV about lethal injection and their 'humanity' or otherwise. There are also a number of people, women in particular, who marry criminals on death row. I personally question their sanity.

    You do like gory stories don't you Marilyn?

  8. 1
    Aruna Sreeram Says:

    I am in agreement with the sarcastic police officer. The guilty walk away freely, and it is the innocent who are jailed!

    I now know what lethal injection comprises of 🙂

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