Published on Friday, June 30, 2000 in the Independent / UK
Bush's Death-Row Headache Grows
by Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
The Chicago professor whose investigations into death row prisoners prompted Illinois to declare a moratorium on executions, has shifted his attention to Texas – home of the Republican presidential candidate George W Bush – and believes he has found an innocent man in line for execution.

Mark Protess, who teaches journalism at Northwestern University, has taken eight graduate students to Livingston in Texas, to look into the case of Henry Watkins Skinner, 38, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two mentally impaired children in 1993. Not only does Professor Protess believe Skinner is innocent, but he believes he has found witnesses and other evidence pointing to a different culprit.

The case against Skinner, he said yesterday, was "worse than any I've seen in Illinois".

"It's a textbook case of a miscarriage of justice, where you have the lethal recipe of police and prosecutorial misconduct, defence ineptitude and judicial indifference," Professor Protess told reporters in Livingston.

If Professor Protess is right it would be an embarrassment for Governor Bush. Texas has scheduled one execution a week between now and election day in November, including one due to be carried last night, despite objections that the defendant, Carlos Jessy San Miguel, was improperly defended. Mr Bush has said he was sure each of the 135 prisoners put to death during his tenure was guilty.

Skinner was convicted on the testimony of a witness who has since alleged that police threatened to charge her as an accessory and on the evidence of blood found on his clothing.

According to Skinner and Professor Protess he was too drunk to have committed the crime – he passed out during a New Year's Eve party shortly beforehand – and slept through the whole thing. Moreover, a bloody palm print found on a plastic bag containing a kitchen knife was shown not to be his.

New evidence uncovered by the journalism class points instead to an uncle who had previously raped Mr Skinner's girlfriend and was seen stalking her an hour before the murders. "This evidence wasn't that hard to find," Professor Protess said. "It was found by eight 21-year-olds."

DNA tests should bear out his theory, he added, but none have been done.

2000 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.