Criminal Justice

This Week in Innocence


Two innocence-related cases in the news this week:

First, North Carolina's state-run innocence commission—the only state-run innocence agency in the country—has found its first exoneration.

…a panel of North Carolina judges ruled Wednesday that a man was wrongfully convicted of murdering a prostitute in 1991 and freed him after 16 years in prison.

The three-judge panel found "clear and convincing evidence" that the man, Gregory F. Taylor, was innocent and had been convicted based on flawed evidence and unreliable testimony.

It was the first case won by the commission, which was established in 2006 after a wave of embarrassing wrongful convictions in North Carolina…

After the verdict, the Wake County district attorney, C. Colon Willoughby Jr., apologized to Mr. Taylor.

"I told him I'm very sorry he was convicted," Mr. Willoughby told The Associated Press. "I wish we had had all of this evidence in 1991."

Second, next week Texas is scheduled to execute Henry Watkins Skinner for killing his girlfriend and her two sons in 1993. Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project—which has a pretty good record in these cases—believes there's a good chance he is innocent. The most troubling part of Skinner's pending execution (and there's plenty about his case to be troubled by) is that there's still DNA from the crime scene that prosecutors refuse to test. So far, Texas' courts have refused to force the state to make the evidence available for testing. Skinner has maintained his innocence since his arrest.

A DNA test isn't expensive, and isn't particularly time consuming. The problem in this case seems to be that the prosecution can put Skinner at the crime scene at the time of the murders, and that's good enough for them. Skinner says he was comatose from an alcohol and codeine overdose when the murders took place, an alibi Medill says is backed by blood tests taken after his arrest. A DNA test on hair or blood at the scene that doesn't match Skinner or the victims, then, wouldn't necessarily prove Skinner is innocent, but it would certainly complicate the state's case against him, especially if it matches the person Skinner's attorneys suspect committed the crimes, an uncle of Skinner's girlfriend. But if you're going to execute someone, it seems like you probably should have first exhausted any possibility that someone else committed the crime.

Skinner's pending execution is all the more troubling given Texas Gov. Rick Perry's efforts to bury a state forensic commission's investigation into the state's possible wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2003.

NEXT: Dramatic Olbermann vs. Dramatic Chipmunk

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  1. “After the verdict, the Wake County district attorney, C. Colon Willoughby Jr., apologized to Mr. Taylor.”

    It shows what a bad state things’re in that I was shocked and impressed by this. Usually these stories seem to end with something like the prosecutor sending the guy a bill for the food consumed on the taxpayer dime.

    1. Agreed – unfortunately, the Texas entry is far more typical.

    2. I was pleased with the apology, but I have been Mr. Balko for too long to take this:

      “I wish we had had all of this evidence in 1991.”

      At face value.

    3. Translation: I’m sorry that this random tragic event, which was not our office’s fault in any way whatever, took place.

      1. Full quote: ‘”I told him I’m very sorry he was convicted,” Mr. Willoughby told The Associated Press. “I wish we had had all of this evidence in 1991.”‘

  2. As part of the Fluffy Memory Project, I would like to request that everyone remember the Rick Perry story Radley links to in another 18 months, when Perry starts making noises about how he’s a small-government advocate and deserves to be President or Vice President.


    1. But he’s tough on crime, dude!

    2. +1. I’m ready to open my wallet to whomever poses the biggest challenge against Perry, regardless of party. Perry does not deserve any future in government service.

      What part of BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT is so hard to understand?

  3. But he’s tough on crime innocence, dude!


  4. Skinner’s pending execution is all the more troubling given Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s efforts to bury a state forensic commission’s investigation into the state’s possible wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2003.

    And yet Debra Medina is supposed to be the crazy one . . .

  5. Eggs must be broken. Omelets must be made.

  6. Where in the Constitution does it say we can have gummint-run “innocence commissions”??!!

    I am outraged by this! Why, they keep this up, we won’t have anyone to make license plates or clean up the highways!!

    There oughta be a law!!

  7. Cops: Imitation pot as bad as the real thing.

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – There may be nothing like the real thing, but some industrious marijuana users have seized on an obscure but easily accessible substance that mimics the drug’s effects on the brain _ creating a popular trade in legal dope that has stymied law enforcement authorities.

    The users are buying a product known as K2 _ or “Spice,” Genie” and “Zohai” _ that is commonly sold in head shops as incense. Produced in China and Korea, the mixture of herbs and spices is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Users roll it up in joints or inhale it from pipes, just like the real thing.

    Though banned in most of Europe, K2’s key ingredients are not regulated in the United States _ a gap that has prompted lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas to consider new legislation.

    “This isn’t Jerry Garcia’s marijuana,” said state Rep. Jeff Roorda, a Democrat from the eastern Missouri town of Barnhart. “They’ve used chemicals to avoid creating something that’s already illegal.”

    Authorities in Johnson County, Kan., discovered ex-convicts on probation smoking K2, and said it is spreading to high school students.

  8. Star Trek fans, prepare to be disappointed. Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew would die within a second of the USS Enterprise approaching the speed of light.

    The problem lies with Einstein’s special theory of relativity. It transforms the thin wisp of hydrogen gas that permeates interstellar space into an intense radiation beam that would kill humans within seconds and destroy the spacecraft’s electronic instruments.…..speed.html

    1. 1. That’s like, really, really old news.


      2. Whaddaya think the deflector fields (distinct from the shields, as I recall) are for, anyway?

      Barring spiffy new physics and technology, of course, even 0.1 c is pretty ambitious for heavy things like ships that carry people. Starwisps may be the only way to go.

      Lets hear it for spiffy new physics!

  9. Federation ships don’t move at post-light speeds in normal space.

    They create warp fields to move through subspace.

    I know this because I am a gigantic dork.

    1. “I understand how the engines work now. It came to me in a dream. The engines don’t move the ship at all. The ship stays where it is and the engines move the universe around it.”

      1. How Carlos Castaneda!

        1. How everybody’s Mother in Law.

      2. Nothing’s impossible if you can imagine it! That’s what being a scientist is all about!

        1. Vermont Gun Owner Climate Researcher|2.19.10 @ 12:08AM|#

          Nothing’s impossible if you can imagine it! That’s what being a scientist is all about!

        2. Don’t be stupid. The universe has rules.

          We may not (indeed, almost certainly do not) know them all yet—meaning that there may be things that currently look impossible that can be done—but there limits.

          1. (Psst– they’re quoting lines from “Futurama”)

  10. The DNA already tested tends to exonerate Hank Skinner. After the trial, The DA tested additional evidence to “put a few more nails in that man’s coffin.”

    OOPS! None of the new evidence tested could be linked to Hank Skinner. In fact, the head hairs found clutched in the victim’s palm belonged to an unknown male and absolutely excluded Hank Skinner.

    For a graphic summarizing the story and the DNA which remains untested, please visit

  11. The polls are looking like Perry has a definite lock on the Republican nomination. If it weren’t for bullshit like this, I would say he was one of the better governors in the country, sadly. He did make the Cato Institute’s top ranked governor on economic issues, and Texas has fared reasonably well under his watch. Well, except for those who got fingered for crimes they didn’t commit.

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