The wife of Hank Skinner, Sandrine Ageorges Skinner, is a long-time

opponent of the death penalty. She met her husband in the course of

pursuing her work to end it.

[Le Monde, France]


Le Monde, France

The Odyssey of a Condemned Texas Man's French Wife


"She - leader of the abolitionist movement in France; he - the 'rebellious bohemian.' Time is short. ... To date, Sandrine Ageorges lists eight post-conviction appeals: all were rejected. The years of legal procedure did nothing but mechanically draw Hank closer, step by step, to his execution. 'An unbearable torture,' she says."


By Special Correspondent Nicolas Bourcier


Translated By Mary Kenney


March 23, 2010


France - Le Monde - Original Article (French)

Hank Skinner: On death row since 1995 for murders that took place, he asserts, while he was unconcious, may obtain the DNA tests that will prove his innocence or guilt.


FRANCE 24 VIDEO: Coverage of the case of Hank Skinner, and the battle being fought by his wife, French national Sandrine Ageorges Skinner, Mar. 26, 00:02:41RealVideo

Houston, TEXAS: She would prefer to speak only of him and that we leave out their marriage and the intimacy of this impossible couple - between a French production manager and a Texas prisoner languishing on death row for fifteen years, and who only has a few hours left. And she would prefer that he remain himself: Hank Skinner, number 999143, convicted of a 1993 triple murder that he says he didn't commit. He, a 47-year-old construction worker that she's only been able to see behind the Plexiglas of a visitors room, who has become one of the iconic figures of a flawed system and who is today, more than ever, hanging on a hypothetical last-minute reprieve from the Supreme Court or the State Governor.


Seated in a restaurant alongside a Texas expressway, Sandrine Ageorges is a woman of 49 with a gaunt appearance and impressive capacity to communicate. The execution of her husband is scheduled for Wednesday, March 24, at the end of the day. She hasn’t slept much. The original date was February 24, but [a week before], a state court ordered the death warrant postponed.


[Editor's Note: On March 24, 45 minutes before he was condemned to death, the Supreme Court ordered a temporary stay of execution in the case of Hank Skinner, pending a decision on whether to allow DNA testing that the state of Texas has refused].


Once again she had come here from France. And with a knot to her stomach, she was hosted for the umpteenth time by a girlfriend in Houston in what she calls her second home. At the announcement of the latest postponement, she said she was "more than happy," but couldn't stop thinking that this latest agony being imposed on her man was perhaps worse than death.


She knows whereof she speaks. Sandrine Ageorges has been an activist for the abolition of the death penalty for more than thirty years. She has lost count of the cases she has taken up and defended - the condemned with whom she has maintained written or telephone correspondence. It is a commitment in the form of an obsession that seized her as a teenager, in 1976 precisely, when she discovered on TV a portrait of Christian Ranucci (photo, right), condemned to death and guillotined in France during the seven-year term of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. "Anger hasn't left me since," she said.



After a stint with Amnesty International in London and the birth of a daughter, she became a audio/video production director. In 1995, she read an article in Télérama about the Lamp of Hope Project, which groups together those condemned to death in Texas. She contacted them, and decided to translate the quarterly newsletter made with the help of local activists.


[Editor's Note: According to the group's Web site, the mission of the Lamp of Hope Project is to "shed light on the truth about the terrible conditions of our justice system and to bring hope to those who believe in life."]


Sandrine Ageorges then began corresponding with three prisoners: Gene Hathorn, whose sentence was just commuted to life after spending 33 years on death row; Robert Fratta, condemned to death for the second time, after his second trial opened in 2009; and Hank Skinner.


Upon reading Skinner's first letter, Sandrine Ageorges was moved. "I didn't fall in love. I prefer to say that we immediately found ourselves." She wrote long and very frequent letters. It followed a rhythm. For five years, they got to know one another. She - leader of the abolitionist movement in France; he - the "rebellious bohemian."


From a legal perspective, the Skinner affair immediately presents all the elements of a bad thriller: a botched trial with proceedings marred by irregularities; and an incompetent and corrupt court-appointed lawyer. Hank Skinner has the perfect profile for a guilty man. A loudmouth and an alcoholic - he had already been caught up in the justice system for petty theft. Then the police found in his house, on the night of December 31, 1993, the body of his girlfriend, with her head smashed by axe-handle blows and her two children, stabbed to death.


France 24 interviews Hank Skinner's French wife, Sandrine

Ageorges-Skinner, about the Supreme Court's decision to

stay her husband's execution.




French Info, France: French Rally to Side of Texas Man Facing Execution


He claims he spent the night at home, but remembers nothing. His clothes were bloodstained. He has a cut on his hand. And Skinner was accused by a neighbor of having threatened him, to prevent him from calling the sheriff.


In court, Hank Skinner protested his innocence, but in 1995 he was condemned to die after two hours of deliberation. Since then, other lawyers have taken up his case and various groups have conducted counter-investigations. A toxicological analysis conducted by an expert with the FBI, shows that Hank Skinner had consumed, that night, enough vodka and codeine to have been incapable of standing unassisted.


In 1997, the neighbor retracted his testimony, claiming to have been pressured by police to incriminate Hank Skinner. Other troubling facts: several items found at the crime scene were never analyzed to detect traces of DNA that could exonerate him. Worse of all, his girlfriend's uncle, who has since died, was known for a violent past and once sexually harassed his niece during a New Year's Eve party, was never questioned.  



Time is short. To date, Sandrine Ageorges lists eight post-conviction appeals: all were rejected. The years of legal procedure did nothing but mechanically draw Hank closer, step by step, to his execution. "An unbearable torture," she says.


One day, the idea of marriage was brought up. "If you need it,” she tells him, “we will." He sent her his marriage proposal in May 2008. With the letter hardly sent, the prison director banned Sandrine from visiting. The wedding took place by proxy, in Houston, four months later, in the presence of a member of the French Consulate.


Sandrine Ageorges Skinner with her husband Hank: as close as they've ever been.

She won't discuss it. Neither Hank's lawyers nor the associations with which she is active were told. Above all, she claims not to want anything to do those women known as "killer groupies," groupies married to men on death row.


At present she's holding on, and wants to believe in the ultimate intervention of the Supreme Court to order genetic testing. On Wednesday, she won’t attend the execution if it takes place. Hank didn't put her on the list, "to protect me," she whispers. She'll wait outside, in front of the high walls of the Walls Unit in Huntsville, the one where they kill Texans on death row.


Afterwards? She thinks. She knows she'll call a New York lawyer to preserve the evidence and carry out the widely-debated DNA tests. Even dead, she'll continue to fight for him, for the truth, for the principles of human justice - and to continue the struggle.


[Editor's Note: Sandrine Ageorges has been an important part of this project , Worldmmets.US and its predecessor, for the past five years. She has translated or helped translate hundreds of articles from French on behalf of the American people and English-speaking world. For a sampling of her work, check out the Worldmeets.US archive].


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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US March 28, 10:59pm]