|Skinner Murder trial underway in Adams County|
Skinner Murder trial underway in Adams County (originally published 5-06-10)
By Marla Blair
On Monday a jury of ten women and two men began their task of listening to evidence in the murder trial of Shirley Skinner. She is charged with three counts of first degree murder for the Nov. 25, 2008, death of Chandlerville resident Steven P. Watkins. Skinner is charged with causing Watkins’ death by shooting him in the back of the head. A 9mm Glock handgun was retrieved from the scene and determined to be the weapon used in the incident. The trial was given a change of venue in December 2009 from Cass to Adams County Circuit Court in Quincy, due to publicity and local controversy.
Shirley Skinner shared the residence where the murder occurred at #11 Horseshoe Drive, Ashland, with her husband, Kenneth, her daughter and son-in-law Debbie and Robert Webster, her grandson Josh Webster, her granddaughter, Jennifer (Webster) Watkins, and great-granddaughter, 17-month-old Sidney Watkins. Steven Watkins had arrived at the house to pick up Sidney for court-approved visitation. Watkins was in the process of obtaining a divorce from his estranged wife, Jennifer, and the couple was to attend a custody hearing the following day, Nov. 26, 2008.
During Monday’s court proceedings, Ashland emergency service providers Wesley Charles “Chuck” Knapp II, a first responder, and Emergency Medical Technician Rick Hand testified as to what they saw upon arriving at #11 Horseshoe Drive, Ashland, at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2008, after a 911 dispatch called for medical assistance to the address. According to testimony from Knapp and Hand, the dispatch message stated a person was in need of attention. Skinner was walking around inside the house, near the front door and they tried to calm her and ask questions concerning her condition. Several times she said, “I shot him, is he dead?” Only when she motioned in the opposite direction, across the room, did the medical team see the body of Steven Watkins.
Knapp approached the body, observing its face-down position and a large pool of blood around the head, on the carpet. Special Prosecutor Mike Vujovich asked if Knapp touched the body and Knapp responded “No.” When Knapp turned to walk back toward Hand and Skinner, he saw the handgun lying on a moving/storage box. Knapp and Hand realized the situation was different than the original call had described and they should not have been first on the scene. Knapp contacted Ashland Police Chief Jim Birdsell. Knapp and Hand believed Skinner was stable and went outside to wait for law enforcement to arrive. The two men stayed at the house until after 10 p.m. when the body was taken to pathology in Springfield.
Chief Birdsell called for backup while enroute to the Horseshoe Drive address and was soon joined by Cass County Deputy Tom Heather, Cass County Sheriff David Osmer and others. Within ten minutes, MECCA (Medical Emergency Cass County Ambulance, Virginia) paramedics Bob Daniel and Patricia Blair arrived. On the witness stand Blair stated she heard Shirley Skinner say, to no one in particular, “I shouldn’t have done it, but he shouldn’t have come back here.” All medical responders and law enforcement officers present at the scene and were called as witnesses on either Monday or Tuesday, and testified that Skinner’s state of behavior was ‘upset, agitated’.
Blair and Daniel took Skinner to the hospital in Springfield at approximately 6:30 p.m. on the evening of Nov. 25. Skinner’s daughter, Debbie Webster rode in the front seat of the ambulance. Blair stated that from the time she and Daniel arrived at the Horseshoe Drive address, Skinner was on a cell phone with someone Skinner referred to as “John” (sic). Several times during the trip to Springfield Webster turned to tell her mother, “Don’t say anything to anyone.”
Skinner is reported to have had an injury of some sort on the “web” of her right hand, between the thumb and forefinger. Patricia Blair stated the mark was two parallel lines that had blood at the surface, but which were not bleeding.
After several witnesses were questioned during the two day period, it was discovered that even though multiple persons saw the mark, no one took a picture of it. While taking the picture did not fall into the job description of most medical assistants or law enforcement personnel, it was an item of interest that could have proven helpful. A broken sconce on the wall inside the front door was photographed by the Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator, but was not removed for evidence. It is now been removed from the wall and presumably unavailable for any testing.
The Skinner/Webster family members were allowed to remain in the home between the time law enforcement arrived and when Shirley Skinner was removed by ambulance and taken to the hospital. Their where-abouts was described as being in “the apartment”, an adjoining set of rooms reached through a door to the right of the front door of the main house, and a separate side door. When medical assistants and law enforcement officers were finished with their survey of the house and Steven Watkins body was removed to the pathologist’s lab in Springfield, the house was left available to the Skinner/Webster family members.
When Police Chief Jim Birdsell was on the witness stand Tuesday afternoon, he was questioned as to his procedure in securing the scene of the crime. He did not take pictures of the body, the gun, the blood-splattered box near the body, or rooms adjacent to the alleged murder. His investigation was spread out across the months since Nov. 25, 2008, and under questioning from Special Prosecutor Mike Vujuvich, Birdsell had to admit he was not experienced in murder cases, but tried to use the offers of assistance from the Cass County sheriff’s department and the Illinois State Police.
Prints on the Glock handgun were matched with finger prints taken from the Skinner/Webster family members. Even though prints on the gun’s surface were not complete or perfect, all family members-including Shirley Skinner- could be eliminated with the partial prints available, except for Jennifer Watkins. She was not present in the courtroom on Monday or Tuesday.
Wednesday’s testimony was to begin at 8:45 a.m., at the Adams County Courthouse, Quincy. Further information will be added to the Star-Gazette website as it becomes available.