In some states, only prisoners facing execution have the right to DNA testing to try proving their innocence. In others, anyone who pleaded guilty is barred from asking for the testing. In the patchwork of legislation passed by Congress and 48 states, individual prosecutors can carry great weight. The Washngton Post says that the Supreme Court is again considering tangled legal questions in the case of Henry Skinner, who says DNA evidence could settle the question of whether he murdered his girlfriend and her two developmentally disabled adult sons.
Prosecutors in Gray County, Tex., where Skinner was convicted, say he passed up a chance to test DNA evidence at his trial 15 years ago. Skinner came within 45 minutes of being strapped down for lethal injection before the Supreme Court stayed his execution to hear his case. The justices’ decision could come at any time. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, an advocate of allowing access to DNA, set up a special unit for that purpose soon after taking office in 2007. Since then, 21 men convicted in Dallas have been exonerated by DNA testing. “If there’s DNA and the person is claiming his innocence, and you look at the case and there may be a possibility of it, what’s the harm?” Watkins asked in an interview. “If he’s guilty, then the system worked. If he’s not, then it didn’t work, so let’s fix it. I don’t see the rationale in blocking a test where there’s a legitimate question of innocence.”