WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a Texas death row inmate should have access to evidence for DNA testing that he says could clear him of three murders.
The justices said Monday they will use the case of Hank Skinner to decide whether prison inmates may use a federal civil rights law to do DNA testing that was not performed prior to their conviction.
Federal appeals courts around the country have decided the issue differently. The high court previously blocked Skinner's execution while it considered his appeal.
Skinner, 47, faced lethal injection for the bludgeoning and strangling of his girlfriend, Twila Jean Busby, 40, and the stabbing of her two adult sons. The slayings occurred at their home in the Texas Panhandle town of Pampa on New Year's Eve in 1993.
He was arrested about three hours after the bodies were found. Police found him in a closet at the trailer home of a woman he knew. He was splattered with the blood of at least two of the victims.
The former oil field and construction worker said he was present when the three were killed but couldn't have committed the murders. Skinner said a combination of vodka and codeine left him passed out on a couch and physically incapable of clubbing Busby 14 times with an ax handle and stabbing her sons, Elwin "Scooter" Caler, 22, and Randy Busby, 20.
Prosecutors argued Skinner wasn't entitled to testing of evidence that wasn't analyzed before his 1995 trial. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is the latest court to agree with prosecutors and reject Skinner's appeal.
Skinner's attorneys want DNA testing on vaginal swabs taken from Busby at the time of her autopsy, fingernail clippings, a knife found on the porch of Busby's house and a second knife found in a plastic bag in the house, a towel with the second knife, a jacket next to Busby's body and any hairs found in her hands that were not destroyed in previous testing. Only the hairs were tested previously and those results were inconclusive, according to court documents.
The case will be argued in the fall.
The case is Skinner v. Switzer, 09-9000.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)