Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Missouri executes Skillicorn for 1994 murder

Dennis Skillicorn was calm — “remarkably calm” — in his final hours.

The convicted murderer was executed at the state corrections facility here at 12:34 a.m. Wednesday, 11 minutes after being administered a series of injections that left him unconscious and ultimately stopped his heart.

He became the first Missouri inmate to be put to death in nearly four years. He was the 67th since capital punishment was reinstated in the state in 1989.

Skillicorn declined a sedative in the hours leading up to the execution, prison officials said, and was accommodating when led into chamber and secured on a gurney. His final meal was a double cheeseburger, fries and a slice of cheesecake from a local restaurant.

The execution was scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m., but was delayed a little over 20 minutes while the state Supreme Court considered a sixth and final motion from Skillicorn’s lawyers to stay the execution.

The procedure itself took longer than in years past due to a new protocol. Previously, the three chemicals were administered in succession, and the execution was completed within four or five minutes.

But in response to court cases over the last few years examining the constitutionality of the lethal injection process, corrections officials this time paused after the first injection to ensure that Skillicorn was in fact unconscious. The fatal second and third injections were then administered.

Shortly after witnesses to the execution were seated in adjoining rooms with views into the execution chamber, Skillicorn could be seen and heard speaking to witnesses there on his behalf — his wife and two spiritual advisers. His words were muffled and could not be understood.

He continued speaking until the sedative rendered him unconscious.

His wife, Paula Skillicorn, a former Kansas City Star reporter who married him after covering his case for the paper, could be seen through two panes of tinted glass. As the execution progressed, her hand trembled and she clutched a tissue. One of the spiritual advisers held his hand on her shoulder, but neither made any overt movements.

Witnesses for the state included three reporters, three state lawmakers and officials from the Department of Corrections and the Attorney General’s Office. Prison officials narrated the procedure as it unfolded.

No one witnessed the execution on behalf of the victim, Richard Drummond.

In a lengthy letter written shortly before his execution, Skillicorn expressed remorse for his crime and apologized to Drummond’s family.

“My prayer for them has always been that God somehow deliver them from their torment,” he wrote.

Skillicorn also wrote that he had been delivered from “the sorrow, despair and regrets of my life” by his religious faith.

“Today I have no doubts that God does change a man from the inside out,” he wrote. “I know because I’ve personally experienced the work of his mighty hand.”

Gov. Jay Nixon, who could have granted clemency and reduced Skillicorn’s sentence to life in prison without parole, released a statement following the execution asking Missourians to remember the victims of Skillicorn’s crimes.

“The authority of the state to impose capital punishment bears with it great responsibility…” he said in the statement. “When these sentences are carried out, it is not with satisfaction, but with a solemn determination.”

Outside the prison, about 70 protesters gathered in opposition to the death penalty. One man — reportedly a Catholic priest from Illinois — was arrested after crossing onto prison property.

Skillicorn, of Kansas City, was one of three men charged in the murder of Drummond, a telephone company supervisor from Excelsior Springs. He and one of the men, Allen Nicklasson also killed a couple in Arizona a few days later.

Nicklasson remains on death row in Missouri. The third accomplice, Tim DeGraffenreid, was a teenager at the time of the crime and is now serving a life sentence.

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