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Texas judge rules against death-row inmate, says DNA info probably wouldn't change verdict

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LUBBOCK, Texas — A Texas death-row inmate probably would have been convicted of the killings of his girlfriend and her two sons two decades ago even if his original defense attorney had introduced DNA test results, a judge has ruled.

In a one-page order Tuesday, Judge Steven Emmert in Pampa wrote that it's "reasonably probable" that 52-year-old Hank Skinner still would have been found guilty.

Skinner's attorney, Doug Robinson, said he will appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

He and Skinner's other attorney, Robert C. Owen, pointed to a "blood-spattered men's windbreaker" collected at the home of the mother killed that authorities lost. The jacket, the attorneys said, pointed to another person.

"The doubts about Hank Skinner's guilt are far too great to allow his execution to proceed, particularly where the state's utter failure to preserve key pieces of evidence may make it impossible to resolve those questions conclusively," they said in an emailed statement.

The Texas Attorney General's Office said Skinner should "quit delaying justice" and face his punishment.

"It has been almost twenty years since he was convicted and sentenced to capital punishment for the murders," spokeswoman Lauren Bean said in an email. "Skinner got the additional DNA testing he asked for and it further confirmed his guilt."

PHOTO: FILE - This Dec. 16, 2009 shows death row inmate Hank Skinner in the visiting area of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Polunksy Unit in West Livingston, Texas. Texas State District Judge Steven Emmert has ruled that Skinner would have been convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two sons in 1993 even if his original defense attorney had introduced DNA test results. (AP Photo/Michael Graczyk, File)
FILE - This Dec. 16, 2009 shows death row inmate Hank Skinner in the visiting area of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Polunksy Unit in West Livingston, Texas. Texas State District Judge Steven Emmert has ruled that Skinner would have been convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two sons in 1993 even if his original defense attorney had introduced DNA test results. (AP Photo/Michael Graczyk, File)

Prosecutors at Skinner's initial trial in 1995 said he used an ax handle to fatally beat his girlfriend, Twila Busby, 40, and stabbed her sons, Elwin Caler and Randy Busby, who were both mentally impaired, on New Year's Eve 1993 in Pampa, about 50 miles northeast of Amarillo.

Skinner has insisted he didn't kill Busby and her sons, saying he was passed out on a couch from a mix of vodka and codeine at the time.

Prosecutors say traces of his DNA were located in blood in the bedroom where Randy Busby was found stabbed to death, and that Skinner's DNA also matched blood stains throughout the house.

Skinner has acknowledged that he argued with Twila Busby that night and that he was inside the house where the bodies were found.

He was found about three hours after the bodies were discovered, hiding in a closet at the home of a woman he knew. He had blood on him from at least two of the victims.

Skinner's trial attorneys did not request DNA testing because they feared the results would hurt his case. He was 20 minutes away from being put to death in 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution and said Skinner could ask to test crime-scene evidence he said may show he's innocent.

He unsuccessfully tried twice to invoke a state law to get at the evidence. He then filed the federal lawsuit, saying the state had deprived him of his rights by withholding access to the evidence.

The attorney general's office had argued against DNA testing, but changed course. The state agreed to allow testing of a list of 40 items, though not the windbreaker.

Emmert, whose ruling Tuesday was first reported by the Amarillo Globe-News, had presided over a two-day evidentiary hearing in February during which attorneys grilled witnesses about their analyses of the DNA results.

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