News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
ACC Needs You
Austin Community College wants ideas from you – yes, all of you, not just folks at ACC – on how to improve student learning. Those ideas will be used in ACC's Quality Enhancement Plan, part of the Student Success Initiative currently under way at ACC. "QEP gives us the opportunity to really focus on ways to directly impact how we support our students," said Soon Merz, associate vice president for effectiveness and accountability, in a press release. "Someone out there has a great idea that will become the official QEP, and the college will get behind it for years to come." To participate, take the survey at www.austincc.edu/sacs/qep by midnight, Oct. 31; every submission will be entered in a prize drawing. – Lee Nichols
TCRP Sues St. David's
The Texas Civil Rights Project this week filed a lawsuit against St. David's Hospital and one of its doctors for allegedly failing to provide a woman with a rape kit exam after she said she was sexually assaulted. The woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, said she was afraid to report the attack out of fear of reprisal but that the hospital refused to administer the forensic exam because she had not already reported the assault to police. The law allows for a rape exam within 96 hours of a sexual assault regardless of whether the victim is ready to file charges, said TCRP Legal Director Wayne Krause in a press statement. "Forcing a sexual assault victim to choose between her safety and collecting evidence to catch the attacker is against the law," he added. In a written response, St. David's CEO C. David Huffstutler told KEYE TV that he is "confident that the physicians and staff" at the hospital "followed the appropriate procedures" and are "fully compliant with all state regulations." Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault – which helped pass the rape-kit-collection law – said she was "saddened" to learn that a sexual assault victim was "not provided this critical right granted by Texas law. ... When a survivor is courageous enough to speak up, we need to do everything we can to help." – Jordan Smith
Supremes Hear Texas Inmate's Case
The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 13 heard arguments in an appeal brought by Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner, sentenced to die for the triple murder in 1993 of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two grown sons. At issue is whether Skinner can bring a federal civil rights suit to gain access to test, at his own expense, biological evidence never before tested – including a vaginal swab and fingernail clippings taken from Busby, two knives found at the crime scene, a bloody towel, and a bloody, sweat-stained jacket. Skinner has long said he is innocent, insisting he was knocked out at the time on booze and codeine. He's been trying to access the untested evidence since 2000 but has been rebuffed by the courts, which have ruled in part that because his defense attorney didn't ask that the evidence be tested, Skinner cannot now say it wasn't his fault that testing was never done. Skinner has also asked that prosecutors voluntarily turn over the evidence, but those requests have been either ignored or denied, according to Skinner's attorney Rob Owen, head of the UT School of Law's Capital Punishment Clinic. District Attorney Lynn Switzer argued that while DNA is now regarded as a powerful tool able to "incriminate and convict" or to "acquit or exonerate," the state nevertheless has an important interest in preserving the "finality of valid convictions" and avoiding costs associated with "successive, meritless challenges to convictions and sentences." Skinner argues that, though he's not asking the court to address the validity of his conviction or sentence, the state's refusal to allow evidence testing violates due process and creates a civil rights action. – J.S.