Hank Skinner: What should we hope for next?

It became clear on Wednesday night, as we celebrated (“crying AND doing the Happy Dance” as my friend Carol Crowe-Leonard said on Twitter), that there was a lot of remaining confusion about exactly WHAT had been granted to Hank Skinner and what that actually meant. It was a relief to see this clarification posted by Change.org. I urge everyone to read it. It looks like there are still a number of weighty ‘Ifs’ between Wednesday’s indefinite stay of execution and freedom for Hank.

Governor Rick Perry and smiling fans

Smiling Perry and fans

So – if the worst happens and the treacle of the American justice system becomes too thick for reason to prevail at the next phase – what chance remains for a reprieve? Well let’s not forget that even if the Supreme Court denies review, there is the final recourse to Governor Rick Perry to continue the stay for an additional 30 days, and to just TEST THE DNA. Would he give the instruction do so? Well, just as the Texas Board of Paroles is a closed and secretive body, it’s hard to read Governor Perry. Instinct would say it’s unlikely. He’s the beloved figurehead of the ‘Hang ‘Em High state’ after all, and he’s busy fighting the corner of his hardcore Republican fanbase on the matter of the healthcare reform bill right now amidst cries of ‘Lead us into secession, Governor Perry, save us from Washington!’. But those cries also mingle with the ones saying ‘Please, Governor Perry, run for President!’ Looking at his snakeoil charm and devout, if misguided, following, and coupling that with the past form of Texas Governors in acceding to the Presidency*, it’s entirely possible that his unstated ambition is that of one day becoming POTUS. And if so, could he in years to come enter into that race knowing that everyone in the Western world had watched him deny a man his last, earnest chance to clear his name?

Opponents of the death penalty tend to look upon Texas as an almost unassailable mountain to climb – it does after all hold the record as the State with most executions under its belt, by a long way – but I can’t help but feel that whatever the outcome for Hank, we have turned a small corner. Perry is in a difficult position, the rationale of the TBPP has again been called into question, and the entire machinery of the capital justice system, which would allow a man’s life to be callously terminated while exculpatory evidence remains, MUST be under increased scrutiny…

So we need to hope that SCOTUS reviews the case for civil appeal. We need to hope that they agree that a constitutional right exists for Hank to have access to the DNA evidence thus far denied. We have to hope the DNA is conclusively in Hank’s favor. And we have to hope that the evidence of his innocence concludes rapidly with a full pardon and release. Above all, we must hope that everything that has happened in Texas since long before Tim Cole and Cameron Todd Willingham, right up to the present day, will be ringing loud and irrepressible alarm bells in courtrooms and police stations across the land.

That’s a lot of hope. I think we’re up for it!!!

Here’s a video interview with Hank’s daughter Natalie soon after we had news of the stay.

* Governor George W. Bush notoriously once claimed that not one innocent man had been executed on his watch.

Video: Why the death penalty is BAD

Thanks to Jeremy Golant for making this video explaining his reasons for considering the death penalty to be immoral, out-of-touch, negligible as a deterrent against crime and financially inefficient, and congratulations to him for positioning the subject material as open to debate. I thought he did a great job of making some very difficult points. Maybe The Optimism Club will have the courage to make a video response some day soon…

As I commented on the video site, I particularly liked the fact that Jeremy drew attention to the fact that the death penalty is NOT just all about the USA. To my mind this accentuates two things: firstly, the gross inconsistencies in what marks a crime out to be ‘heinous enough’ to warrant the death penalty; secondly, the continuing weirdness of the United States, a supposed world leader and role-model in democracy perpetuating a form of punishment that is considered barbaric and humanely insupportable to the rest of the western world.

I would also commend Jeremy for addressing the question of ‘if not execution then what else?’ – a subject I see getting very little treatment. He discusses how prisoners convicted of the worst crimes could be put to use generating incomes for the state and as compensation for their crimes. This opens up a very powerful thread of discussion: the value of the individual; the topics of restitution, remorse and rehabilitation; and perhaps most importantly in the short term, the negation of the line of pro-DP argument which says ‘why should I pay taxes to keep murderers alive?’

Please take the time to view Jeremy’s video. I welcome your thoughts and comments on the content because I believe it raises some very good points and paves the way to contextualise others. Of course – there are a good many points Jeremy has missed but let’s face it, there are countless lines of argument AGAINST the death penalty – far too many for one short-form video (even Amnesty’s Jeremy Irons informational piece)

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