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Supreme Court opens way for prisoners to try to gain access to DNA evidence

Texas courts said Skinner did not meet the requirements of the state's law, which, among other things, requires that testing was either not available or not technologically advanced at the time of trial or that the defendant did not pass up the chance for testing.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented, saying that civil rights laws should not allow Skinner another way out when he has exhausted all appeals. They predicted an outpouring of similar lawsuits.

"What prisoner would not avail himself of this additional bite at the apple?" Thomas wrote.

For some, Skinner's case has become a cause.

He has steadfastly maintained his innocence, despite acknowledging that he was present during the 1993 New Year's Eve slayings of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two mentally disabled adult sons at the house they shared in the small Panhandle town of Pampa.

Police found Skinner blocks away, hiding in the closet of a former girlfriend, in bloody clothes and with a gash on his hand.

He said that during the killings he was passed out on what tests showed to be a near-lethal combination of codeine and alcohol. Skinner said he could not have overpowered and killed the three in his condition.

He said that he woke to find them dead and that the blood on his clothes came from examining them.

Prosecutors did not test all of the evidence from the crime scene, including material from a rape kit, hair and skin cells under Busby's fingernails.

Strategic decisions seemed to be in play on both sides: Prosecutors did not need the extra evidence, and Skinner's attorney feared that more testing would solidify the case against his client.

Skinner and his supporters, including Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project, have pointed to Busby's now-deceased uncle, of whom she was afraid, as the possible killer. Skinner says that he always wanted the evidence tested.

The case is Skinner v. Switzer .

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