August 30, 2014

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Skinner guilty—all five counts (originally published 5-13-10)

 

by Marla Blair

Star-Gazette editor

 

Justice for Steven was the mantra for almost 18 months as the family and friends of Steven Paul Watkins waited for the investigation, the arrest, and finally, the trial that would point to the person responsible for his death. On Thursday, May 6, a jury of ten women and two men deliberated for almost 90 minutes before they determined that Shirley Skinner was guilty on three counts of first degree murder. Because she caused the death of Watkins by discharging a gun, she faces a minimum of 45 years in prison.

In the second charge of solicitation of murder, she was found guilty, with a minimum prison sentence of 15 years.

Shirley Skinner is accused of shooting Watkins in the back of the head and causing his death on Nov. 25, 2008. He had been at the Skinner home to pick up his youngest daughter, Sidney, for a court-approved visitation. He and his wife, Jennifer, were in divorce proceedings and a child custody hearing was scheduled for the following day.

The weapon presented during court proceedings-a Glock 9mm-was actually registered to Skinner’s granddaughter, Jennifer (Webster) Watkins, the deceased man’s estranged wife. And even

though DNA found on the weapon could not point to Shirley Skinner, it could not eliminate Jennifer, who was never called to testify.

The week’s testimony came from the first responders and paramedics who were first on the scene on Nov. 25, 2008, when a 911 call asked for medical assistance to #11

Horseshoe Drive, Ashland. Several

times Skinner was heard to say, “I shot him, is he dead?” and also “I shouldn’t have done it, but he shouldn’t have come here”.

Also called were former Cass County Sheriff David Osmer and Ashland Police Chief Jim Birdsell, who was lead on the investigation,

but had not ever dealt with a murder case, raising questions about

his process and how it affected the evidence. Further testimony by witnesses on Wednesday painted a picture of Skinner as a woman who was intent on removing someone from her life, with or without anyone’s assistance.

One employee in particular from the Skinner family’s business, Triple S Forest Products, Beardstown, was privy to Shirley Skinner’s comments in October of 2008, in which she said she would “offer $10,000 for someone to kill a person”. Donald Russell, Ipava, told the court he thought she was kidding, but he stated Skinner said, “I’m serious”. A second man, Leland “Mike” Knott, couldn’t remember the incident while on the stand, blaming health issues for his lapse of memory, but was reminded by special prosecutor Ed Parkinson that Knott had given testimony to the police on April 13, 2010.

A third witness, Fred Loxley, Beardstown, testified he was at the Triple S office in October 2008, and Shirley Skinner asked him where to buy a gun. He responded with the name of a retail outlet in Missouri where he had previously purchased hunting guns, thinking she was interested in purchasing something for her grandson for Christmas. But she asked no further questions and he did not pursue the issue.

Special prosecutor Michael Vujovich told the jury, “On charges one, two, and three (the murder charges) there is sufficient evidence to qualify-the statements she made to emergency personnel, the question to Loxley, the gun being found in her home, and Steven Watkins receiving a shot to the back of his head in that home. She fired the weapon.”

In reference to the fourth and fifth charges of solicitation of murder, Vujovich said,  “Donald Russell testified to the affect that Shirley Skinner offered Russell or someone to kill someone. Whether or not he thought Shirley Skinner was kidding is irrelevant. His avoidance of the subject show his belief that the offer was serious.”

Skinner is being held in the Pike County jail. Sentencing will take place in Cass County Circuit Court, Virginia, following a June 11 hearing on post-trial motions to be filed by her attorneys Jon Gray Noll and Stuart Shiffman.