Hank Skinner says he’s ‘optimistic’ after 27 years on death row.

“I’m optimistic. I’m not going to end up here and, first of all, I should never have been put there,” Hank Skinner said during a meeting with AFP on his Texas prison’s death row.

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Incarcerated in Livingston, a small town 100 kilometers from Houston, the man with the full beard and large, expressive brown eyes has always maintained his innocence. Crying for miscarriage of justice for 27 years, he was sentenced to death on March 18, 1995 for the murder of his girlfriend and their two children in Pampa, north Texas.




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The father of three, just sixty, has been awaiting a decision from the Texas Court of Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, for more than three years, which will determine whether the jury that would have sentenced him to death would have reached a different decision, if he had benefited from the DNA tests now available.

He did not deny being at the house where the three died, but did claim he was unconscious after drinking alcohol and codeine. The convict was found nearby with blood on his clothing and claims certain DNA tests prove his innocence.

Texas has 197 death row inmates. Six people were executed in 2020 and 2021, but 11 left death row after their sentences were reviewed.

Some are still behind bars, like the mentally ill Raymond Riles, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in December 1976.

Others are free, like Cesar Fierro, who was sent back to Mexico after 40 years on death row.

If the court agrees to Hank Skinner’s defense, he remains incarcerated but can appeal to prove his innocence.

On five occasions he was given a execution date by the courts. On March 24, 2010, the United States Supreme Court spared him 23 minutes from the scheduled lethal injection, shortly after his last meal.

His lawyer then brought him the good news.

“I dropped the phone and slid down the wall. I didn’t realize it, but tears streamed from both eyes. I felt like someone lifted a thousand-pound weight off my chest. I felt so light. I thought I was floating…” Hank Skinner explains from behind glass, wearing the white uniform of the Allan B. Polunsky Detention Center.

The euphoric shock passed, paradoxically he suffered a terrible setback at the prospect of returning to death row “and all the suffering here”.

For him, watching inmates die is harder than being locked in a small cell 22 to 23 hours a day, with no television and no physical contact with anyone other than the guards when they handcuff or remove his handcuffs. In total, 127 inmates have been executed in Texas, the state with the most executions in the country, since 2010.

He lives in a noise from morning to night: “There are disturbed people banging against the walls,” he testifies.




AFP

“They kick doors, scream, scream with all their might. Others believe they are being spoken to and respond by screaming. And there are those who really communicate… But we learn to ignore”.

Without daylight and with breakfast at 3 a.m., it was impossible for him to find a regular rhythm of life.

He sleeps when he collapses from fatigue, and very often uses the quieter times of the night to read the files of other convicts.

Having worked in a law firm before his conviction, he shares his expertise with them.

“I help appeal to anyone who asks me, except those who rape babies, people who kill or maim children. I just can’t do that,” he said into the black handset of the detention center.

“I got 11 people out of here. It’s better than almost every other death row attorney except mine,” he adds, laughing.

In 2008, the prisoner married a French anti-death penalty activist, convinced that Hank Skinner was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

If he is released, “(we will) find a little house in a forest where we can spend time together,” says Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner today.

“I want to spend every minute of my remaining years with my wife,” says Hank Skinner.

The convict has another project in mind: “To abolish the death penalty worldwide,” he says with a smile. “I think if people knew what that was like, they wouldn’t vote for the death penalty. I have always believed in humanity.”

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