DNA Testing Puts Hank Skinner at Murder Scene

But it doesn't necessarily mean he's guilty, attorneys argue

Hank Skinner
Hank Skinner

DNA testing in the case of death row inmate Hank Skinner "confirms" that he is responsible for the deaths of his longtime girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two grown sons, Elwin Caler and Randy Busby, who were murdered in the home they shared in Pampa on New Year's Eve 1993, lawyers for the state assert in papers filed in Gray County court on Tuesday.

According to the "advisory" filed in court regarding the results of post-conviction DNA testing done this fall, Skinner's DNA was found on 10 items of evidence among 40 submitted for testing by the Department of Public Safety's Lubbock Crime Lab, including multiple items of evidence taken from the bedroom shared by Twila Busby's sons, where they were both murdered. Skinner's DNA was found in blood on a dresser, on the door frame, on a comforter, on a tennis shoe, and on a cassette tape holder all collected from the room. Skinner's DNA was also found on door knobs – both inside and outside the house – and on the back door of the house. The test results show that Skinner was all over the house the night that the family was murdered and, combined with testing done prior to Skinner's 1995 trial, prove he is responsible for the murders, Assistant Attorney General Edward Marshall wrote for the court.

This blood- and sweat-stained jacket was found near Twila Busby's body but is now missing from evidence.
This blood- and sweat-stained jacket was found near Twila Busby's body but is now missing from evidence.

Still, it's unclear just what this latest round of tests actually proves: Skinner admits being in the home the night the family was slaughtered, but has long claimed he is innocent; he says he was knocked out by a cocktail of booze and prescription drugs and awoke to find the carnage. He has argued that testing on a slew of items never before tested – including vaginal swabs taken from Twila, clippings of her nails, two knives found at the home, and a blood- and sweat-stained windbreaker found near Twila's body – could prove someone else was in the house.

In a statement released last Wednesday, Skin­ner's attorney Rob Owen criticized the state for jumping to conclusions about the DNA results obtained thus far. Indeed, Owen noted that testing is still ongoing – notably, on two items where a mixture of DNA, including that of an unknown person has been found. While no DNA was found on one of the knives in the house, a mixture of DNA, including Skinner's, Caler's, and that of an unknown person, was found on a knife collected from the front porch of the house. A similar mixture of DNA was found on a sample of carpet collected from the sons' bedroom. "We will remain unable to draw any strong conclusions about whether the DNA testing has resolved the stubborn questions about Hank Skinner's guilt or innocence until additional DNA testing has been completed, and the data underlying that DNA testing has been made available to our experts for a detailed review," Owen said. Additional testing is needed to amplify the unknown DNA profile so that it can be loaded into the national law enforcement database to search for a match, Owen said. The profile has been run through Texas' DNA database but didn't generate a hit. Details about the discovery of the unknown profile were not included in the AG office's court advisory.

For more than a decade, the state fought against allowing post-conviction testing for Skinner – this summer, a lawyer for the state argued before the Court of Criminal Appeals that to allow testing after all these years would be to incentivize defendants charged with capital crimes to forgo testing at trial in order to request it at a later date as a tactic to stall execution. That argument didn't appear to impress the CCA, and before the court issued a ruling the state withdrew its objection, agreeing with Owen to the list of items submitted to the Lubbock lab. Notably, no male DNA was found on the vaginal swabs, nor was there any foreign DNA found on the fingernail clippings. Similarly, seven hairs found clutched in Twila's hands were matched to her DNA; no DNA was obtained from 10 other hairs.

Moreover, still outstanding is the question of whether Skinner will be able to have tested the bloodstained windbreaker: Shortly after the state agreed to testing, it was revealed that the state has lost the jacket. No one with the Pampa Police Department or the Gray County Sheriff's Office has seen the jacket in years, and it is unclear if anyone is actively searching for it. The jacket is key to Skinner's case, Owen said this summer, because it looks like a jacket that was regularly worn by Twila's uncle Robert Donnell, who had been seen stalking her at a party shortly before she was murdered. The AG's office has not responded to questions about the missing jacket.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

MORE Death Penalty
Death Watch: Madness and Forensics
Death Watch: Madness and Forensics
Two capital cases raise psychological and evidentiary issues

Jordan Smith, Oct. 4, 2013

Death Watch: Running Low on Poison
Death Watch: Running Low on Poison
The state of Texas has three executions' worth of pentobarbitol

Jordan Smith, Aug. 9, 2013

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014


Hank Skinner, death penalty, Twila Busby, Elwin Caler, death row, capital punishment, DNA testing, DNA, wrongful conviction, Court of Criminal Appeals, courts, Rob Owen, Edward Marshall

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle