Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Church leaders ask Blunt to commute death sentence

Church leaders ask Blunt to commute death sentence

August 12, 2008 | 11:08 p.m. CDT
BY CHRIS BLANK, The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY — Several religious leaders have asked Gov. Matt Blunt to grant clemency to a convicted killer scheduled to be executed Aug. 27, saying the inmate has "turned his life around" in prison.

Dennis Skillicorn would be the first inmate executed in Missouri since 2005 unless, as the clergy members urged in a letter Tuesday, Blunt reduces his sentence to life in prison without parole.

A spokeswoman for Blunt, Jessica Robinson, said the governor has received several clemency requests for Skillicorn, including some focused on a general opposition to the death penalty. She said Blunt would review the requests but supports the death penalty.
"He believes it's a highly effective deterrent to crime," Robinson said.

Skillicorn and another man, Allen Nicklasson, were both charged with murder in Missouri and Arizona as part of a multistate crime rampage in 1994.

Skillicorn was convicted in 1996 of murdering Richard Drummond, an Excelsior Springs businessman who stopped to help Skillicorn and Nicklasson when their car broke down on Interstate 70 in Callaway County.

Prosecutors said Drummond was forced to drive the two, along with a teenager who accompanied them, west toward Kansas City. In Lafayette County, Drummond was forced out of the car and was shot to death in a field.

Skillicorn and Nicklasson then drove southwest when their vehicle broke down in the Arizona desert. They approached the home of Joseph Babcock, who was killed after driving the pair back to their vehicle. The victim's wife, Charlene Babcock, was then killed at the couple's home.

In 1998, Skillicorn pleaded guilty to murder charges in Arizona after prosecutors agreed to waive the possibility of the death penalty.
An attorney representing Skillicorn has denied that he killed Drummond. Attorney Jennifer Merrigan has said that Nicklasson repeatedly confessed from the beginning that he was responsible for the murder.

In their letter to Blunt, the religious leaders said Skillicorn "has turned his life around, becoming a model of rehabilitation and service to others."

The letter is signed by Missouri church leaders from several different denominations, including Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist and Church of the Brethren. The St. Louis Religious Society of Friends, Dominican Sisters of Sparkhill, N.Y., and the Institute for Peace and Justice also joined the request.

According to the letter, Skillicorn has compiled a book of firsthand accounts from death row inmates that is distributed to juvenile centers aimed at helping young offenders develop skills and not commit crimes. He also is the editor of a newsletter for death row inmates that focuses on healing between the families of crime victims and prison inmates.

The religious leaders also said Skillicorn has been a leader in prison, helping to found a family strengthening program for inmates and serving as a facilitator for a life skills program.

Skillicorn and his wife, Paula, are part of a lawsuit filed last month by nearly 30 inmates, family, clergy members and legislators. The suit claims Missouri's method of lethal injection violates state law and asks for a temporary halt on executions.

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