Dennis Skillicorn executed

By Bob Priddy, Missourinet [Audio report]

skillicornMurderer Dennis Skillicorn went to his death this morning with an apology and with faith. In his final statement, Skillicorn said he had lived every day for the last 15 years with remorse for his murder of Richard Drummond, who had stopped to offer a ride to Skillicorn and two others when their car broke down. Skillicorn lost his last appeal to the State Supreme Court just moments before he was taken to the death chamber. He was pronounced dead at 12:34 this morning.

Skillicorn was implicated in five murders, but he said in his last statement that God and a good woman had changed his life. His statement was read by Corrections Department spokesman Jacqueline LaPine.

“The sorrow, despair and regrets of my life would most certainly have consumed me if not for the grace and mercy of a loving and living God who saved me,” Skillicorn wrote in a final statement read to reporters by Department of Corrections’ spokesman Jacqueline LaPine. “As a husband, I’ve been overjoyed to know the love of a woman unlike any I’ve ever known. She shall forever be by soul mate and I hers.”

While in prison, Skillicorn married Paula Barr, a reporter for the Kansas City Star who covered his trial as a crime reporter. She no longer works for the Star. They were married in 1997 at the Potosi prison, where Skillicorn was housed until being moved to Bonne Terre for the execution.

Attorneys for Skillicorn kept up the legal battle until the very end. The State Supreme Court turned aside half-a-dozen appeals for stays of execution in the final day, the last one shortly before midnight. That delayed the execution for about half an hour.

Governor Nixon denied a clemency request earlier in the evening after receiving a final briefing from his counsel.

“After careful deliberation, I have denied this petition,” Nixon said in a written statement. “After more than a decade of legal challenges, both the conviction and the death sentence of Dennis Skillicorn have held up under extensive judicial review by the state and federal courts. ”

Nixon noted in his statement that the two murders for which Dennis Skillicorn was convicted in Missouri are not his only murder convictions. He also received life sentences after pleading guilty to murdering an Arizona couple in 1994, a few days after the Drummond murder.

“These factors were taken into consideration in the clemency process and played a significant role in my decision,” Nixon stated.

Supporters of a commutation for Skillicorn noted his many good works while in prison, but it was a decision made on August24th of 1994 that cost Skillicorn his life. Skillicorn, along with Allen Nicklasson and Tim DeGraffenreid had been driving back to Kansas City the day before after a road trip to buy drugs when their car broke down on I-70. They tried to have it repaired, but it broke down again the next day.

Richard Drummond, a 47-year-old supervisor from AT&T, stopped to offer the three a ride, not knowing the three were armed after burglarizing a nearby house. Nicklasson held a 22-caliber pistol to Drummond’s head and ordered him to drive to a secluded area in Lafayette County where Nicklasson took Drummond into the woods and killed him.

Skillicorn and Nicklasson dropped DeGraffenreid off in Blue Springs and kept driving Drummond’s car until it got stuck in the Arizona desert. They walked to a nearby home where Joe Babcock offered to pull them out of the sand. As Babcock was trying to scoop sand from the car’s tires, Nicklasson killed him. They then went back to the house and killed his wife, Charlene, and took the Babcock’s vehicle.

DeGraffenreid by then had been arrested and led police to Drummond’s body. Skillicorn and Nicklasson were caught in the San Diego, California area six weeks after Drummond’s death.

DeGraffenreid pleaded guilty to second degree murder and is in prison for life. Nicklasson and Skillicorn were tried separately. Both got death. Nicklasson is still awaiting execution.

Skillicorn had been involved in an earlier murder. In 1979, he and two other young men burglarized a Kansas City home. One of the others used a shotgun to kill an 81-year-old man. Skillicorn, then 20, was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. He was paroled in 1992.

Skillicorn supporters say the man who died was not the same man who was involved in the killings. They pointed to his work caring for sick and dying inmates, or his work in a program helping families of inmates. One person says he has made prison safer. Another has called him a “calming influence” in the prison. He was the editor of COMPASSION magazine which is sent to death row inmates and to about 4,500 other readers. Money from subscriptions has funded scholarships for children who have lost parents to violent crime.

This was Missouri’s first execution since October, 2005, when the state put Marlin Gray to death, the fifth inmate executed that year. In February, 2006, the state came within hours of executing Michael Taylor for the murder of a Kansas City school girl. His case was added the list of others that challenged the three-drug protocol used for executions. Courts have since upheld the system used in Missouri. Taylor remains under a death sentence. No new execution date has been set for him.